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North Korea carries out missile test in defiance of UN

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

US and South Korean officials say launch of missile, amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula, appears to have failed.

'Horrifying' death of fourth man executed in Arkansas leads to demands for inquiry

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Kenneth Williams coughed, trembled, lurched and jerked about 15 times after he received the lethal injection.

Gwen Stefani calls off Las Vegas fundraiser performance after rupturing eardrum

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

The Voice coach has reportedly been advised to not sing or fly until she has fully recovered.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar appears at Hezb-i-Islami meeting

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Controversial commander returns from self-imposed exile after his group signed a peace deal with the government.

Russian Grand Prix 2017: Where to watch qualifying live and practice review

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Ferrari look like a genuine threat to Mercedes in Sochi after setting the fastest times during practice.

Isis car bomb in Baghdad kills at least 4 traffic policemen

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

The car bomb reportedly targeted a busy street in the Iraqi capital, which houses several foreign media offices.

Patrick Swayze's Dirty Dancing jacket fetches $62,500

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Hundreds of other items belonging to the late US actor go under the hammer in Los Angeles.

Prince's ex-wife pens love letter to his legacy: 'Music was his refuge'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Mayte Garcia wrote the letter in keeping with the late singer's first death anniversary on 21 April.

Trump tells NRA he will never 'infringe' on gun rights

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

US president thanks gun lobbyists for support on the campaign trail, saying they have a 'friend' in the White House.

Violent clashes erupt in Rio

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Buses were set on fire as a general strike turned ugly.

Quebec: Uniting to fulfil mosque attack victim's dream

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Muslim community in Quebec City increases security after January attack and finds ways to honour the victims.

Brazil: Violence erupts in Rio after general strike

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Buses and cars are set alight at the end of a day of protests against proposed pension reforms.

'Already dead'

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

'The Hong Kong we know isn't dying. It's already dead,' says one young Hong Konger contemplating her future.

The 'cardinal's' tips on how to become a fashion king

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

'Cardinal' Ekoumany is the President of the Ivory Coast Sapeurs. Video produced by Daniel South

North Korea crisis: North test-fires ballistic missile

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

The test of a North Korean ballistic missile appears to have failed, South Korean military says.

In case you missed it: Cuba's got crabs

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

And other stories you missed this week.

Patrick Swayze memorabilia auction to go ahead amid family dispute

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

Late actor's widow approved sale of personal effects despite niece insisting items should remain with family.

North Korea's Latest Provocation

By J. Weston Phippen from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile early Saturday morning (local time) that reportedly exploded seconds after it took off. But whether or not the missile test was successful, it will undoubtedly contribute to ongoing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, especially since the U.S. Navy directed a carrier strike group to the region earlier this month as a show of force.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap confirmed the missile test with South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff. The type of missile tested was not known, but it reportedly launched at 5:30 a.m. local time from a site in South Pyongan Province. In a terse statement, the White House said it was aware of the test, and that the president had been briefed. U.S. President Donald Trump had previously ordered the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine to the area, and both are reportedly in position near the Korean Peninsula. Earlier this week the U.S. also deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile-defense system to South Korea. U.S. officials have said the system will be operational within days.

For some two decades North Korea has been developing its nuclear capabilities, and some experts believe it will have the missile technology necessary to deliver a warhead to the West Coast of the United States within a few years. This is the second failed missile test in less than a week, and both of the missiles tested were said to be short- to medium-range. Still, the Trump administration has responded to recent North Korean provocations with more aggressive rhetoric than that used by his predecessor. As my colleague Krishnadev Calamur wrote Friday morning:

[The tests] prompted Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, to say as recently as six weeks ago that the U.S. would not talk to North Korea until it renounced nuclear weapons; Vice President Mike Pence to declare as over the Obama-era policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea; and to warn Pyongyang “not to test [Trump’s] resolve” after the U.S. fired missiles at a target in Syria in response to a chemical-weapons attack by the Assad regime and dropped the “mother of all bombs” against ISIS in Afghanistan.

That language fueled speculation that the U.S. was preparing for a military operation against North Korea. But earlier this week, Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee the U.S. should act appropriately “in order to bring Kim Jong-Un to his senses, not his knees.” Those remarks were followed by the joint statement from Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Trump told Reuters on Thursday, “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.”

But the president has not ruled out diplomacy. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the U.S., Trump asked for help in addressing the North Korea crisis—after having criticized China during the campaign for not doing enough to solve the problem.  Trump has since declared that China was “trying very hard.”

In February, China banned North Korean coal shipments, the county’s largest export. Tillerson also told Reuters earlier this week that China had threatened further unilateral sanctions if Pyongyang conducted more nuclear tests, although he did not say when this threat was made.

Gunpoint victim explains astonishing cool

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 29, 2017.

A cashier at Jimmy John's takeaway in Kansas City, Missouri tells the BBC how he kept his astonishing cool when a robber stuck a gun in his face.

Tsunami fears raised after Philippines underwater quake causes 'hazardous waves'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Tremor initially measured at 7.2-magnitude strikes off coast of southern island of Mindanao.

Trump executive order aims to allow Arctic drilling

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

The US president said he hoped the new order would create "thousands and thousands" of jobs.

Why Launching a War Against North Korea Would Be Immoral

By Peter Beinart from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Most American presidents of the 20th century understood that preventive war is immoral and dangerous. But, in the past two decades, striking first has become an accepted foreign policy strategy of both Democrats and Republicans. In this short video, Atlantic writer Peter Beinart argues that Americans need to relearn the wisdom of the past: that preventive war threatens world peace.

North Korea missile test fails says US official

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Launch comes after US warnings against 'catastrophic' failure to act at Security Council meeting.

Cool cashier in US diner Jimmy John's stickup video goes viral

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Armed robbery at Kansas sandwich shop leaves staffer at till unmoved despite being held up at gunpoint.

Turkey says 11 Syrian Kurds killed in border clash

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

Turkish army says YPG fighters fired rockets across the border, prompting retaliation by Turkish forces.

Executed Arkansas man 'convulsed and groaned'

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

The United Nations condemns the "cruelty" of Arkansas' execution timetable.

FIFA suspends audit official Richard Lai over bribery

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

Guam football chief Richard Lai, who is a US citizen, pleaded guilty to taking close to $1m in bribes.

Scientists Should Just Be Political

By Robinson Meyer from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The sorrow of the March for Science did not hit me until I saw a photo from it—an older woman standing next to a homemade sign adorned with Ms. Frizzle.

You know Ms. Frizzle, if only from a PBS ad. She is the elementary-school teacher with the curly red hair at the center of the Magic School Bus books and television show. In every episode, Ms. Frizzle corrals her small class of diverse kids into the Magic School Bus, which then drives to a local swamp, volcano, or human circulatory system. Then the eponymous magic happens—and the entire class is outfitted in hip waders, floating past a great blue heron; or in SCUBA suits, swimming through a vein past a red blood cell. Ms. Frizzle—not until recently did I notice her egalitarian title—lectures the class on the science of the scene.

No one ever signs a permission slip in Magic School Bus, raising questions about Ms. Frizzle’s management of liability risk. But no questions can be raised about her expertise, which seemed to hold the entire experimental curriculum together. She urged her students to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” The world was bright and open and here for the curious.

Now, that remarkable and fictional woman—the discovery-obsessed doyenne whose face is in every public library in America—was here, on a sign, in the rain, near the White House, protesting a president who brags about grabbing women’s vaginas. I felt bad about the shabbiness of the whole scene, and I felt bad specifically for Ms. Frizzle, who, after a lifetime of teaching third graders, has to spend her twilight years doing… this.

It is a miserable time for science. America has an almost non-existent climate policy, its support for basic research is flagging, and its congressmen harass individual scientists in the name of ideology. At the March for Science last Saturday, the speakers and the protesters kept coming back to the same theme: “I can’t believe I have to march for science!”

But that was often as specific as they got. Before the event, organizers said that the march was not for any one particular political goal, but in support of science in general. This was not reflected equally across the event. The protesters who came to D.C. knew who their enemy was. (His name rhymes with Ronald Yump.) But the people on stage held a glorified science-museum presentation.

“This did not begin in November,” Rush Holt, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a former congressman, told reporters last week. “It’s true the march idea came up in January, but it was built on a growing concern that reached a level of anxiety about the conditions under which science can thrive.”

This same tepidness also cooled the stage. Speakers encouraged attendees to vote, and they told them to call their representative in Congress. But they rarely funneled attendees to one group or another, or endorsed specific bills or policies. Far more often they reveled in their nerdiness or their shared love of science. Speakers were far more likely to praise historical Americans who took an enlightened view of science than they were to name contemporary ones who opposed it. One speaker singled out Abraham Lincoln for praise—not because he won the Civil War—but because he was so nerdy that he filed a patent.

Exxon Mobil files about 320 patents per year. It employs thousands of scientists. It devotes tens of thousands of dollars to scholarships which support women and minorities in STEM fields. An important idea in the study of geological time scales is called the “Exxon curve,” because it was discovered by Exxon scientists. Exxon also spent $8.8 million last year lobbying American lawmakers. This was actually low: In 2008, it spent $29 million to lobby for the defeat of a climate-change bill.

By any account, then, Exxon loves science. It doesn’t need convincing that science is useful and helpful—certainly, science helps Exxon’s bottom line every day. But when it comes time to shape U.S. policy, Exxon looks out for something that it loves even more than science: itself.

The problem of our political system isn’t an insufficient love of science. Sixty-seven percent of U.S. adults think scientists “should have a major role in policy decisions,” as do nearly half of self-identified conservative Republicans. When you set aside the issue of climate change, Americans of both parties do equally well on tests of basic scientific literacy.

The problem facing the implementation of any kind of sensible climate-change policy—for example—is that many powerful organizations believe they would be harmed by it. Therefore they use the levers of power available to them to oppose it. The U.S. provides $700 billion in subsidies to fossil-fuel companies every year.

These companies are entering politics to protect their material self-interests. These firms may have too much power, but they are not using the political system in a strange way: Protecting your material self-interest is a valid thing to do in politics!

It is true that the status of “science” has changed in American politics, thanks in part to 20 years of party polarization over climate change. But once a depoliticized issue becomes politicized, its supporters can’t win just by shouting that it’s actually uncontroversial. We saw this strategy fail in 2016, when the Trump campaign politicized free trade—and the Clinton campaign responded that free trade wasn’t political. It will fail again for science now, unless its supporters make new arguments for it and win the fight on the merits.

Which is why the March for Science scared me. The worst possible thing for the march is that people believed the rhetoric they were hearing on the stage. It will not help them understand why, after two decades of evidence, the United States has yet to formulate a sensible and science-informed climate policy.  

After the March for Science ended, a colleague joked to me: “If they really wanted to be scientific about this, they would have the march again next week.”

The thing is: They are. On Saturday, the March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice will take over downtown Washington, D.C., and dozens of other cities around the country. Unlike the March for Science, it is forthrightly political. It understands itself as part of the broad and intersectional left. It has even divided the route of the march into sections for different aspects of the progressive coalition: one area for labor, another for racial justice groups, another for religious leaders.

This may make some scientists bristle: Should science alloy itself with other members of a political constituency? Their concerns are understandable but misguided. I suspect that in the longterm, it’s the confidently political—confidently partisan—climate marchers who will have the right approach. If you’re going to do something political, like a march, it should be fully political.

In September 2009, tens of thousands of protesters filled the National Mall as part of the the first major Tea Party rally. (Officially, it was called “the Taxpayer March on Washington.”) One year later, more than 200,000 people attended the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” the dual Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert rally. One of these marches allied itself with a party and followed up with local organization. The other rejected extremist politics—but it neither supported a party nor asked protesters to organize at home.

Seven years later, it’s the smaller Tea Party rally that still reverberates in our politics. So if scientists want to do politics, they should do it all out. They shouldn’t worry about the stain of asserting their self-interest. They should take chances—they should get messy.

Man named as Neven Glen Butler arrested for fatal sex attack on California school race track

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Woman in her 80s dies after going to aid of 61-year-old friend attacked while walking at Highlands High.

What can Pope Francis achieve in Egypt?

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

Pontiff says his trip to Egypt where Orthodox Christians are increasingly targeted is journey of "unity and fraternity".

Michelle Obama: 'I won't run for office' for my children

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

"It's all well and good until you start running, and then the knives come out," said Mrs Obama.

Pope Francis visits bombed Coptic church during Egypt visit

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

Francis is on a short visit to Egypt, where he has urged religious leaders to help end violence.

Why The President Show Might Just Work

By David Sims from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Late-night TV has seen major ratings boosts across the board because of President Donald Trump. For years disinterested in political comedy, viewers have flocked to comedians like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, who make hay with topical jokes every night. Comedy Central’s decision to order The President Show, then, is eminently logical—it’s a weekly Daily Show-esque mix of desk segments, pre-taped bits, and interviews hosted in character by one of the best Trump impersonators in the business, Anthony Atamanuik. At the same time, much of Colbert and Meyers’s appeal seems rooted in their frequent takedowns of the president. Would an entire show hosted by the president—even a broad parody of him—add to the sense that the comedy world is oversaturated Trump humor?

The first episode of any late-night show is bound to have its jitters, and The President Show’s debut on Thursday was no different. But despite the program’s slightly frantic presentation, it showed real potential—suggesting this high-concept idea could actually carve out a longer future for itself, rather than serving as a piece of stunt programming. The President Show works because it understands that Atamanuik’s take on Trump is not a vehicle for one-liners, but a comedy character of his own, a jacked-up version of Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report host. This President Trump isn’t here to make fun of himself—he’s here to put on a show, and it’s just as chaotic and entertaining as you might imagine.

Atamanuik, a veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade theater, started doing his Trump impression in 2015, when the real-estate magnate first entered the Republican presidential primaries. It evolved from a UCB bit to an ongoing show in which his Trump debated Bernie Sanders (as played by comedian James Adomian); the two went on to develop their show into a comedy series for Fusion. Atamanuik has had time to hone the details, and the technical craft of his impression is wonderful—he has nailed tons of Trump’s little tics, from his conductor-like hand movements to his propensity for wildly varying the pitch of his voice from sentence to sentence.

But beyond that, Atamanuik has a sense of Trump the character, a relentless self-promoter with the energy of a carnival barker and a deep well of insecurity. Alec Baldwin, the other most noted Trump impression (on Saturday Night Live), plays the president as a sort of hulking brute with much lower energy, an aggressive performance that seems inspired by the candidate’s behavior on the campaign trail. Atamanuik is a little more playful, gabbing at a mile-a-minute pace as he tries to keep the live crowd of The President Show engaged.

Among the segments of his first episode were a desk bit called “Nice/Not Nice,” in which Trump praised his friends (Marine Le Pen, Ivanka Trump) and decried his enemies (the nation of Germany, Sean Spicer). A remote piece saw him walk the streets of New York after attempting, and failing, to visit his wife Melania at Trump Tower. This is the bit where Atamanuik thrived, using his improvisational skills to interact with stunned-looking bystanders and rant from the middle of Times Square (his manic excitement at the sight of a truck going by, a reference to a widely shared picture of the President, was a particular highlight).

The show was light on traditional monologue-style jokes. Trump isn’t coming out to recap and undermine his last week as the President; it wouldn’t make sense for him to outright mock himself. Instead, Atamanuik has turned the entire half-hour into a monument to Trump’s ego, which he then delights in undercutting throughout. It’s the same trick The Colbert Report (which, like this series, aired in the 11:30 p.m. slot after The Daily Show) pulled, but to a much greater extent. The President Show even included a muted Peter Grosz (one of its writers) as Mike Pence, acting as a hilariously bland sidekick to his grandstanding boss.

The President Show will, of course, struggle to shake the idea that it’s a stunt. It appears almost purpose-built to attract a response from the actual Donald Trump, who is no stranger to criticizing late-night parodies of himself. And despite the ongoing ratings boom for political humor, it’s hard to imagine that such a specific parody can sustain itself for weeks on end without veering further into surrealism. But considering the gimmick factor, The President Show looks to be a surprisingly robust, well-produced work with ambitions greater than scoring cheap hits.

Mourade Zeguendi shuns Brian De Palma 'terrorist' role

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

Belgian of Moroccan origin Mourade Zeguendi announces refusal to be typecast by Brian De Palma as a Molenbeek fighter.

US Congress averts government shutdown with one-week stopgap bill

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Postponement follows healthcare bill delay but gives White House little to celebrate for Trump's 100-day mark.

The Many North Korea Policies of the Trump Administration

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

In his first three months, Donald Trump’s administration has begun to wrestle with the seemingly intractable nature of American foreign-policy headaches—the sorts of problems that bedevil each president, but which each rookie seems to think, at least for a time, he can solve.

But Trump’s problem is not just that the problems are tough. It’s that his administration is unable to articulate what American policy even is. This was true of Syria, a realm in which multiple U.S. officials gave conflicting interpretations of U.S. policy in the days after missile strikes on the Assad government. And it is true halfway around the world with North Korea, where, as if the actions of Kim Jong Un’s government were not inscrutable enough on their own, the U.S. line seems to change frequently.

Let’s review:

March 16: “A different approach”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Japan, says that “a different approach is required” on North Korea, though he doesn’t outline quite what that would mean.

“Well, I think it’s important to recognize that the diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of denuclearization have failed,” he says. “So we have 20 years of failed approach, and that includes a period in which the United States provided $1.35 billion in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway.”

March 17: “The era of strategic patience is over”

The following day in Seoul, Tillerson shocked the world with a statement just before meeting with South Korea’s foreign minister.

“Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” Tillerson says. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security, and economic measures. All options are on the table. North Korea must understand that the only path to a secure, economically-prosperous future is to abandon its development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other weapons of mass destruction.”

Tillerson also rejects negotiation with North Korea: “Conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume.” Observers wonder whether Tillerson is suggesting forced regime change or simply positioning the U.S. “His warning on Friday about new ways to pressure the North was far more specific and martial sounding than during the first stop of his three-country tour, in Tokyo on Thursday,” The New York Times reports. “His inconsistency of tone may have been intended to signal a tougher line to the Chinese before he lands in Beijing on Saturday.”

April 2: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will”

In an interview with the Financial Times, President Trump adopts a warlike tone as well, suggesting willingness to take unilateral military action.

“China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” he says. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” He adds: “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you.”

April 4: “We’ve said enough”

Two days later, after Pyongyang launches a missile, Tillerson baffles the world by simply refusing to say anything at all. “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” he says in a statement. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

April 9: Dispatching the U.S.S. Carl Vinson

Amid increasing worries about war, the U.S. Pacific Command announces it is sending the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, and its strike group toward the Korean Peninsula, in what is viewed as a threat toward North Korea. The White House and Pentagon trumpet the news, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying, “We are sending an armada.” It only becomes clear on April 18 that, in fact, the Vinson was 3,500 miles away and sailing the opposite direction at the time.

April 16: “The patience of the United States has run out”

By mid-April, Tillerson’s remarks about the “era of strategic patience” seem more mysterious than ever, especially given his tightlipped April 4 statement. Was the original phrase just a slip of the tongue?

Apparently not. On a trip to the DMZ, Vice President Pence repeats it. “The era of strategic patience is over,” Pence says. “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”

April 19: “The sword stands ready”

Three days later, aboard the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan in Tokyo Bay, Pence is even more direct about military threats: “The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready.”

April 26: “Return to the path of dialogue”

After briefing members of Congress about North Korea, Tillerson issues a joint statement with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

“We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the D.P.R.K. in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue,” they say. “The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our Allies.”

The statement is notable for its call for talks, especially given Tillerson’s statement on March 17—one in line with traditional U.S. policy—that North Korea must make concessions before talks begin. Meanwhile, the U.S. Pacific Command tweets that the U.S. is not interested in overthrowing Kim:

April 27: “Obviously, that would be the way we would like to solve this”

A day later, Tillerson stuns the world by going even further, supporting direct talks with Pyongyang. NPR’s Steve Inskeep asks, “Do you intend direct talks with North Korea? Is that your goal?” Tillerson replies, “Obviously, that would be the way we would like to solve this, but North Korea has to decide they’re ready to talk to us about the right agenda. And the right agenda is not simply stopping where they are for a few more months or a few more years and then resuming things. That’s been the agenda for the last 20 years.”

He also does not lay out any specific preconditions for negotiation.

That represents a major shift, since Presidents George W. Bush and Obama both insisted on multilateral talks with North Korea—Obama after 2012 when it became apparent that three rounds of direct talks had yielded little. It also seems at odds with President Trump’s many recent statements about how China is working with the U.S. to solve the North Korea problem.

April 27: “A major, major conflict with North Korea”

Meanwhile, Trump, speaking to Reuters, sends contradictory signals. “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely,” he says. There’s no direct factual contradiction between Tillerson’s and Trump’s lines—one could favor direct negotiation while still recognizing the chance of warfare—but the divergence between the conciliatory and bellicose approaches coming from different parts of the administration is jarring.

Meanwhile, Trump’s statement that he’d like South Korea to pay for a missile-defense system and his threat to cancel a free-trade agreement with the country roils the American ally.

April 28: “Before we can ever consider talks”

The following day, chairing a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, Tillerson again changes his course, setting a firm precondition for any talks with Pyongyang. “North Korea must take concrete steps to reduce the threat that its illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and its allies before we can even consider talks,” he says. “We will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

However, Tillerson also emphasizes that the U.S. is not trying to topple Kim. “Our goal is not regime change, nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region,” he said.

* * *

The many shifts are jarring—it is hard to discern what the U.S. actually thinks and intends to do in North Korea, when the nation’s top diplomat keeps contradicting himself, the president has his own line, and even matters as simple as naval deployments can’t be taken at face value. One consistent thread has been the U.S. insistence that all options are on the table, but even that is not entirely true, since the U.S. says that regime change is not a possibility.

As with Syria, the confusion raises a series of questions about the administration. Are the differences a product of diverging viewpoints jockeying for primacy in the White House? Is there insufficient communication between Tillerson and the White House? Is Tillerson simply very bad at messaging, and is reversing himself unintentionally? Or is it simply that the U.S. doesn’t have a coherent North Korea policy from which he can draw? A coherent policy is not sufficient—neither Bush nor Obama was able to solve the riddle of North Korea—but each day presents more evidence that the Trump administration simply hasn’t made up its mind yet.

How to Clean Up the Mess in Venezuela

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

To stop the worst hemispheric crisis in decades, President Donald Trump needs a policy that includes not only tough words but also concrete actions. But the United States can’t do it alone. To help rather than hurt U.S. interests, the United States should assemble a diplomatic effort against Venezuela's increasingly repressive regime, writes Shannon O’Neil.

How to Clean Up the Mess in Venezuela

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

To stop the worst hemispheric crisis in decades, President Donald Trump needs a policy that includes not only tough words but also concrete actions. But the United States can’t do it alone. To help rather than hurt U.S. interests, the United States should assemble a diplomatic effort against Venezuela's increasingly repressive regime, writes Shannon O’Neil.

EU holds off halting Turkey membership talks

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Brussels wary of antagonising Erdogan despite his crackdown on opponents

Have settlements killed a two-state solution?

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

Israeli diplomat Dani Dayan defends settlement building, and Nelson Mandela's granddaughter denounces the ANC.

Palestinian 'day of rage' in support of prisoners

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

Palestinians across occupied territories protest in solidarity with hunger-striking prisoners.

Pope in Egypt for historic visit

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

Pope Francis urged faith leaders to denounce violence following bomb attacks that killed dozens of Christians.

EU emphasises unity on Brexit as leaders gather

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Worries rise about gap in expectations with London over financial demands

Johnny Depp and other stars in dying fan's zombie movie

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

The Make A Film Foundation made cancer patient Anthony Conti’s dying wish come true.

Friendly fire inquiry after US soldiers die battling IS

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

Sgts Joshua Rodgers, 22, and Cameron Thomas, 23, both on their third deployment to Afghanistan.

What Trump's Twitter says about his first 100 days as president

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Analysis of social media use speaks volumes about time in office.

Europe's nationalist international

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

Europe's far-right groups and ideologues have long been collaborating across national borders to further their agendas.

Ilie Nastase: Romania's Fed Cup captain to quit game if punished by ITF

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

Ilie Nastase says he will quit tennis if he is banned over the derogatory comments he made about Serena William's unborn child.

Macedonia’s ruling party accused of staging parliament attack

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Escalation of 2-year political crisis in the Balkan republic

Zaev calls attack in parliament 'attempted murder'

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

Macedonia opposition leader, injured in Thursday's violence, shuns talks and brands attack on him as 'attempted murder'.

Mr Market and the first 100 days of Mr Trump

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The president is bad at cutting deals, and US stocks like that just fine

Finland's oldest operating ferry given electric motor

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

The Fori passenger ferry will now use electric power to make its river crossings.

Drunk Californian man arrested after tackling crime-fighting robot

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The 300-pound Knightscope robot – named K5 – spins and occasionally whistles while watching over the area.

Heart-stopping moment 'hero' police officer grabs disturbed man as he jumps from roof

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Connecticut nursing home resident was about to plunge six floors to the ground below.

Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

Getty

Zinedine Zidane urges French voters to avoid Marine Le Pen and the Front National

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The footballing legend said – just as in 2002 – that he is 'far away' from the ideas of the far-right party.

Ro Khanna Wants to Give Working-Class Households $1 Trillion

By Annie Lowrey from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Ro Khanna has a $1 trillion plan to fatten Americans’ wallets.

The newly elected member of Congress, who represents Silicon Valley, has become a loud progressive voice on the Hill during his brief tenure there. The way he sees it, Democrats have failed by not offering families a radical plan to end wage stagnation and bring prosperity to the middle class once again. He is working on a bill he believes will do just that, by boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide as much as $6,000 a year for individuals and $12,000 for families. (That would roughly double the maximum payout for families, and increase it tenfold for childless workers.) The plan is being heralded as a move towards a universal basic income in the United States, and Khanna hopes to pair it with efforts to move federal jobs out of Washington, expand universities and colleges, and encourage investment in depressed communities. Such a moonshot effort is not going anywhere soon, he concedes. But it would at the very least demonstrate to voters that Democrats had something new and bold to offer them.

We spoke about what Obama did wrong, what Trump has done right, whether tech companies like Facebook should be broken up, whether deficits matter, and how to help coal miners in Kentucky, along with his tax proposal. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


Annie Lowrey: Let’s start with this trillion-dollar modest proposal.

Ro Khanna: There is this huge income disparity in my own district. It’s a district where rent in some places, like Sunnyvale, is $3,000 a month. If you’re not working at Apple, if you’re not working at Google, if you’re not at a tech startup… if you’re a teacher, if you’re a nurse, if you’re a firefighter, it’s very hard to live there, very hard to afford any sort of higher education for your kids. Forget it if you want to go to Stanford. If you want to go to San Jose State.

There’s this extraordinary wealth that’s being generated, and yet so many people struggling and feeling like they can’t keep up and be part of the middle class. We have an economy that’s really geared toward rewarding the investor class. What are we doing to make sure that people who want to have a middle-class life are able to keep up? This is not just a problem in my own district. In some sense, the country is divided.

Lowrey: Right. So the idea is to tackle income inequality and stagnation.

Khanna: In part. The country has these—to use [the Berkeley economist] Enrico Moretti’s work—these 300 economic innovation zones. Areas that are creating wealth and jobs. Then, there are these other places where we don’t see this economic opportunity, and people feeling like their middle-class life is slipping away. This is part of Trump saying, “Make America Great Again.” Because for a large number of people in this country, life seemed simpler, easier, and the middle-class dream seemed more accessible years back than it does today. That is surely not the case for Indian Americans or African Americans or women, but for many people it seems that way.

How do we address this? You could provide an incentive to move. But then again, when I was in Appalachia, people don’t want to move. Just like my family and I don’t want to go to live in eastern Kentucky. That’s not because it’s not a beautiful area. It’s because I like my Indian food within two miles of my condo in Fremont. And people in Paintsville, Kentucky, probably have no interest in going and living in Silicon Valley.

Lowrey: It’s funny.You could no more get a senator or member of congress from Kentucky to say, “What we need are credits to get everybody get out of here.” But you hear all the time, “Let’s revitalize this place.” And yet, we don’t really have great place-based revitalization policy.

Khanna: Exactly. It’s politically impossible [to get people to move], and not what people want.

I do think there are things you can do for these areas. One is to create new job opportunities and industries in parts of the country that don’t have them. That is the hardest challenge. Part of it is expanding universities, because we know that there’s a correlation between university location and job creation. Should Michigan create more satellite campuses to create more jobs?

Then, how do we start creating new apprenticeship programs and new capital infusions to take some of the hard-working ethic of people in places like Paintsville and create jobs? And how do we use technology to allow people to stay where they are and still work?

This is the good case for technology. People often make the bad case of robots and automation taking everybody’s jobs. But what if virtual reality actually allowed you to stay in Paintsville and work for a company in Michigan? Then, you think, okay, if that’s how people are making a living, those might not be 9-to-5 jobs. Maybe they’ll have to do multiple jobs. Maybe it won’t be a union job. How are we going to have economic security then?

Lowrey: Right, how do you protect against the fissured workplace, people making poverty wages at jobs without benefits.

Khanna: That’s where the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit comes in. We’re not divorcing it from work, but we’re realizing two things. One that people are working hard and they’re not earning a middle-class wage. They’re not earning what they think they deserve for that work. And the nature of work has changed because unions have lost bargaining power.

The fruits of the economy and all the advantages of technology and globalization have gone far more to the investor class and the professional class and not as much to the working class. Partly because of the loss of labor unions, partly because of things like a lack of antitrust enforcement, policies that have privileged shareholder returns.

How do we make up for that? That’s where this idea came of a trillion-dollar proposal came from. We would give a 20 percent raise to the bottom 20 percent of households in the income distribution, to compensate them for the stagnancy of wages since 1979.

Lowrey: Why tie it to the Earned Income Tax Credit? This is not necessarily an argument I agree with, but if you think that automation is going to start eliminating these jobs, you’re not just going to have wage stagnation. You’re going to have a lower employment-to-population ratio, and higher unemployment.

Khanna: It’s a mixed case. I think automation will eliminate certain types of jobs—lower income, lower-skilled jobs in manufacturing. But nobody knows whether it’s going to change the job basket of the 21st century, or be net positive, or net negative.

Lowrey: So you don’t think robots are coming for everyone’s job.

Khanna: No, the statistics don’t show that.

Lowrey: It’s a common belief out there in Silicon Valley.

Khanna: The jobs of the 21st century aren’t just going to be programming robotics and advanced manufacturing. It’s going to be elder care—we have an aging population—and childcare. The 21st-century mix of jobs is probably going to be different than the 20th-century mix. If you talk to manufacturers out in Michigan, rarely do you hear, “Oh, we’ve got this problem. We’re hiring all these robots and we can’t hire people.” I’ve never heard someone tell me that. They say, “Oh, we have all these jobs but we don’t have people of the right skill set for these jobs.”

Lowrey: Right.

Khanna: Maybe the four-year degrees aren’t as necessary. Maybe we need to have a more German-style apprenticeship model for some of these jobs—credentialing, ongoing technical training. We probably have to expand our thinking of what type of service jobs there will be. Yes, robots will eliminate certain jobs and there probably should be a particular empathy and concern for those jobs that will be eliminated. But it’s not that in the aggregate they’re going to shrink employment.

People want to be useful. I think it would be very patronizing to go to folks who are coal miners and say, “Look, here’s your check because all the productive work is going to be done on the coasts.” These are hard-working people who believe they’ve contributed to the country, whose dignity and sense of self-esteem is linked to work and productive work. I think a better argument is to say, “Look, we’re going to help prepare these areas for diversification, so they can succeed economically.” Then boost wages through the EITC.

Lowrey: How do you think about cost? The obvious critique of this from a lot of your more centrist colleagues, as well as colleagues on the right, would be that a trillion dollars is a lot of dollars. What are you going to disincentivize with this kind of aggressive redistribution? Is this too expensive for a country that is still running a deficit despite having 5 percent unemployment?

Khanna: First of all, I think we have to look at what deficits are. [The University of Missouri-Kansas City economist] Stephanie Kelton’s work is very informative on this. If the government gives someone $100 and takes back $90, you’re at a deficit of $10. But that is $10 in the economy. It’s $10 of productive economic activity. It’s not like that $10 just disappeared.

If you have inflation, then obviously you need to control spending. You don’t want hyperinflation. You can’t just have the government printing money and having prices go up. But then when we look at our economy and you look at the Congressional Budget Office projections, they project an inflation rate that’s at 2 or 3 percent, including with full employment, 10 years, eight years out. We constantly hear about Greece. Well, Japan has had a 240 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, and they haven’t had hyperinflation. In fact, they have deflation. The problem with Greece was not that it was a situation of debt-to-GDP ratio. The problem with Greece was a transition to the euro and losing confidence in the economy.

I would start to care far more about the long-term impact of deficits versus empowering the middle class if inflation rates or the projection of inflation rates were higher.

Lowrey: The idea is not to pay for it?

Khanna: There are obviously ways to raise revenue—the financial transaction tax, getting rid of corporate deductions, taxing corporate deferrals. No one is saying that we [should] run massive structural deficits. We have to raise more revenue. But the red herring that somehow we’re going down the road of Greece or we’re engaged in fiscally irresponsible behavior… it is just not true given where inflation is projected to be.

Lowrey: Earlier, you had mentioned antitrust. There’s a growing belief on the left that a lack of antitrust enforcement by both Republican and Democratic administrations is at least partially responsible for the slowdown in dynamism and the decline in wages. Do you think that that monopoly power is leading to lower wages? If so, do you think that there needs to be more aggressive antitrust enforcement in certain industries or all across the economy?

Khanna: I do. Look at the costs of broadband. The fact that there are only four [internet service providers] that really provide most of the service. That’s a direct consequence of our lack of antitrust enforcement. We need stronger Federal Trade Commission antitrust enforcement and protection, to make sure that companies don't have market power that provides an advantaged incumbency and does not allow new companies to come up.

Lowrey: Does that apply to Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon?

Khanna: Sure. It applies across the board. I think the FTC should be aggressive in antitrust enforcement regardless of industry, whether it's the tech industry, whether it’s ISPs, whether it’s airlines, whether it’s Wall Street banks. I don’t think just because something is technology that it’s exempt from strong antitrust protection. So we should beef up the FTC. We should beef up antitrust enforcement.

We should do so with three things in mind. Is it providing higher prices to consumers? Is it discouraging competition by not allowing new entrants to come in? What is it doing in terms of the concentration of economic power with a few companies that may not be creating jobs?

Lowrey: The Trump administration has been blanket anti-immigrant, regardless of skill level, which is a break from most Republican orthodoxy.

Khanna: That’s probably the rhetoric that’s been received the most negatively in my district, because my district is so diverse, with both high-skilled immigrants and people who are not in these higher-paid professions. I think most people love that about living there. They like it because of the cultural diversity. They like it because of the innovation that that creates. They think that’s sort of the vision of America at its best. Trump has really challenged that sense. I think that this kind of parochial, inward-looking, exclusive vision of America is what offends people the most in my district, more than his economic policy. That and his rush to militaristic solutions, I think.

Lowrey: What do you think was the biggest mistake that the Obama administration made?

Khanna: Obviously, I supported the president. I think he did a very very good job, on balance. But there are areas where I disagreed or where he could have done more.

First, on foreign policy. I think the escalation in Afghanistan was a mistake. I think the interference in Ukraine in 2014—we shouldn’t have gotten as involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected leader there. I don’t think we should have gone into Libya. I think calling for regime change in Syria was a mistake. Not because Assad isn’t a terrible actor. But because American intervention has made things worse in many cases, and not made us more safe. I wish that there was a more non-interventionist foreign policy. I think we could have saved both a lot of money and had a safer world.

On economic policy, I think we could have done more to focus on the jobs and economic opportunities in parts of the country that didn't have them. The president tried doing certain things. He created these manufacturing institutes around the country. But why not have a massive expansion of universities? Why not try to put more federal agencies and federal jobs in states outside the beltway? I don’t think there was as much of an understanding of the dislocation in certain places, and disconnect from government.

Lowrey: How does expanding the EITC revitalize those places?

Khanna: We know that this will do more to put money in the pockets of people to spend it, to create jobs. It’s going to increase consumer demand. When you have more consumer demand, you’re going to have more people shopping, you’re going to create more jobs. Maybe they’ll be at Walmart. That’s a separate issue of how we could get Walmart to pay more, how we get to a $15 minimum wage. But there’ll be more jobs. We know that it will probably lead to more GDP growth.

Lowrey: Have you reached out to the White House on this?

Khanna: I haven’t reached out to them. Look, if Trump said, “I’m coming out for an apprenticeship program,” or, “I like what you’re talking about in Appalachia, let’s fund it and get tech jobs,” or if he said, “I want to help expand broadband,” I wouldn’t be opposed to working on something that was concrete and that was going to help people. I’m on a bill with Kevin McCarthy to help veterans get tech training.

But there’s nothing that I’ve seen come out of his administration so far that would help a lot of the people who feel left behind. It feels like he’s appealing to their cultural values and that’s fine, that’s legitimate. I philosophically disagree with some of them. I’m pro-choice, and for LGBT equality and immigration. It may be that they have a different worldview and that’s what he’s appealing to and we just will agree to disagree and there’s not going to be common ground.

I was on the board of Planned Parenthood. I’m not going to go and say, “Okay, Donald Trump, let’s find a compromise. Let’s find a compromise on the border wall.” If he moves away from the anti-immigration stance, moves away from these contentious social issues, and starts to propose economic policy, then I think he may find people in Congress who are willing to work with him.

Lowrey: How do you think about the scope of what’s possible in terms of actually passing major legislation? Obviously, Congress has been hamstrung for however-many years now. It’s not even clear that with unified control on the Republican side that they’re going to get much more than continuing resolutions. Is this about expanding the Overton window? Having solutions ready in the event of some downturn? Strategically, where are you positioning yourself?

Khanna: My hope is that we build the consensus for this. That when we hopefully have a Democratic President in 2020, by then that we’re able to have a coherent progressive agenda, with these pieces part of that. Are there parts of the proposal—expanding universities and college campuses, making federal jobs available in the states—where we can make incremental progress before that? I do think so.

Am I that optimistic that we’re going to get a trillion dollar expansion of the earned-income tax credit before we have a different president? I doubt it. But there are things that were introduced 30 years ago that are now becoming mainstream. The progressive wing of the party should not be afraid to lay out their vision of where do they want to take the country and what would an ideal society look like. Then we can negotiate the details. Right now we don’t even have a basic sense of what would we want if we had every branch of government.

Lowrey: Does Donald Trump’s victory imply that people on the left should have moved or should be moving to the center?

Khanna: No. Donald Trump’s victory implies that people need to be more bold. People yawned at the smallness of American politics, at the stagnation of American politics, at the same faces, the same ideas, the same talking points. Trump came along and offered these radically new—in my judgment, radically wrong—ideas. Suddenly, you have someone talking about $3 trillion in tax cuts. Wow! Maybe $3 trillion in spending is fine, right? That’s what Donald Trump is saying! Okay, well, what would the progressives do with $3 trillion?

The only silver lining to Trump’s election—they’re very very few—is that he’s blown up the status quo. That was a reflection on the people on both sides. The problem with it is the cure is so much worse than the disease. He’s blown it up and now he wants to take away Meals On Wheels and weatherization programs and throw out immigrants.

Lowrey: Populist radicalism.

Khanna: America tends to be conservative, in the sense of it being hard to move things. We, by purpose and design, wanted the system to be slow, exactly to prevent against demagoguery. At the very least, Trump said, there’s something wrong. There are big issues. We’ve blown things up. Now, let’s get an opportunity to have a thoughtful bold vision and maybe people will be receptive to it.

My bet is that the next time, or at least over the next 10 years, people are going to be wanting solutions that are truthful. At some point, people in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, they’re going to say: “Where are the jobs? How is my life better?

Britain’s populist rebels without a cause

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The UK Independence party is struggling to find a new raison d'être

Which election campaign promises has Donald Trump broken?

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

After 100 days in office, Trump has faced many obstacles as well as small successes.

Spellfucker: Here's how to hide text in plain sight on the internet

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Have a secret message you want to hide from search engines and text filters? Here's an ingenious obfuscator....

Marching against climate change in the age of Donald Trump

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The People’s Climate Movement is as much about politics as science. That's its strength.

Saying goodbye is never easy. But the present generation are facing an awful lot of farewells: to the melting arctic, the dying Barrier Reef, and the general resilience of ecosystems around the world. As Margaret Atwood described it in her essay of the same name: “It’s not climate change, it’s everything change”.

The problem with “everything-change” is that it can be overwhelming. How do you even decide where to start?

The People’s Climate Movement want to begin by making visible the extent of concern out there. This weekend, a coalition of organisations have planned a protest march on the American capital. Between 50,000 -100,000 people are expected to attend, including eco-celebrities Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore and Richard Branson.

In London, a group called Campaign Against Climate Change, are co-ordinating a UK-based solidarity event. Protestors will meet at 11.30am in Old Palace yard opposite Parliament, then move to Westminster Bridge, where they will spell out a message to Theresa May: “Trump and May: Climate Disaster”.

For UK campaigners, this is a vital opportunity to raise awareness of the many ways in which action on climate change is under threat. Claire James from CACC outlines the sense of frustration and injustice that many feel with regard to recent government policy: “There have been 12,000 jobs lost last year in the solar industry alone and installation numbers have plummeted. Meanwhile fracking, hugely unpopular, is given determined backing.”

Ahead of the June election, campaigners are using the event to call for specific, cross-party commitments. One, fast-tracking the UK’s delayed Climate Change Plan. Two, ruling out new trade deals that compromise environmental, worker or consumer rights. And three, implementing a fair deal for UK solar and wind industry. “Our action on Saturday is about saying to the government – and to anyone who wants to form the next government – do your policies measure up?” says James.

These concrete political aims are an important way in which the movement differs from last weekend’s March For Science. That protest, inspired by the popularity of the Women’s March earlier this year, kept its message intentionally wide. As one of the London event’s organisers told DeSmog, it placed its emphasis on a generalised “celebration of science”. But this lack of specificity drew criticism from some quarters – for presenting a confusing message about politics' relationship to science.

Generalisation can also risk putting people off joining marches at all. Over the last few months, numerous friends have said they feel uncomfortable joining protests where they’re not sure that the person marching next to them is doing so for the same reasons. They’d feel much happier signing a petition, with a more specific and limited aim, they tell me.

This weekend’s climate marches risk drawing some of the same concerns. “Climate-change has become a synecdoche, a surrogate, for many causes in today’s world – social justice, the protection of nature, the rights of future generations, the defence of science,” says Professor Mike Hulme from King's College London. “Marches such as this give political voice to anti-establishment protest, but they don’t stop the climate changing.”

In addition, not all who want to see climate change prioritised by governments may agree over the exact course of action – with outright opposition to fracking, for instance, or to a third runway at Heathrow.

But this weekend’s movement also appears to have taken these lessons on board. First, they are putting their political aims up front. According the US event’s website, whereas the March for Science strove to be non-political, this movement “believes strongly in the need to call out the politicians.”

The link to the Paris Climate Treaty is helpful in this respect. The People’s Climate Movement traces its birth back to September 21 2014, the eve of the UN climate summit, when 400,000 people marched through New York demanding action on the climate crisis. This gives the movement a clear piece of legislation to both celebrate and defend.

And the London-based event is also attempting to re-think and expand what street-protests can achieve. “We’re doing a smaller action rather than a big march,” explains Claire James, “but we’re trying to have a real focus with the speakers on ‘what next’”. After the protest in Westminster, attendees are invited to join an afternoon of free food, activities and music, hosted by the food waste campaign Feedback. Here there will be even further opportunity to learn about the many ways – from divestment campaigns to local renewable energy groups – in which people can help press for change.

In this respect, public action against the climate crisis promises not to end when the walking does. And while protests won't stop climate change in themselves, joining a march can be a powerful reminder that we are not in this crisis alone.

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

By Daniel Harris from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

Getty

'TrickBot' malware now targeting 20 new UK banks in fresh cybercrime spree, IBM warns

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

One of the UK targets is reportedly one of the 'oldest banks in the world.'

Le Pen redraws battle lines with appeal to left

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

NF leader adopts more fiery tone in attempt to win over Mélenchon supporters

Justin Bieber shares spotlight with DJ Khaled's son in I'm The One music video

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Asahd Khaled is executive producer of Khaled's new album – at the age of six months.

Nastase sorry for racist remark about Serena Williams

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

Former tennis great Ilie Nastase was being investigated after racist comments about Serena Williams' unborn child.

Pope Francis arrives in Egypt on historic visit

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

Catholic pontiff's two-day visit is aimed at fostering peace between the Muslim and Christian-minority community.

German airlines drop safety rule prompted by Germanwings crash

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

The carriers scrap the two-person policy brought in after the 2015 Germanwings crash.

As his Syria strike shows, Trump is the man to solve the North Korea problem

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Donald Trump is willing to threaten rogue states with military action and then follow through with it.

US growth rate hits three-year low

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

President Trump faces a greater challenge in meeting his growth pledge after weak data.

Sweden lorry attack claims fifth victim

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

A 66-year-old Swedish woman dies three weeks after the attack at a shopping area in Stockholm.

Peter Kay's Car Share will restore your faith in human beings

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

 I clutch at John and Kayleigh's potential for happiness as if at straws. 

I discovered Peter Kay’s Car Share about a year ago, by accident. BBC News at Ten had finished and there we were, slumped in our seats, despondent, unable to move. It came on, by my memory, immediately afterwards, and we zombies stared at it unthinkingly at first, unaware that we were in the presence of greatness. But it didn’t take long for the penny to drop and we’ve been obsessed ever since. A year on a, I am convinced – forgive the mild pomposity – that this is one of the most inspired and culturally significant television shows of our age.

Have you seen it? Perhaps you have: the first series, which was originally broadcast in 2015, won a couple of Baftas and was the most popular “box set” ever to be released on BBC iPlayer. The second – too short – series (Tuesdays, 9pm) concludes on BBC1 on 2 May. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. For one thing, it will make you smile. It is very funny, but it is also tender; its unstated subject being kindness, it has the ability briefly to restore one’s faith in human beings.

For another, it is rooted in provincial reality in a way no other television programme is right now. Try as I might to resist using the words “metropolitan bubble”, I can’t help but feel that those columnists who persist, post-Brexit vote, in trotting out every demeaning cliché it’s possible to imagine about the north and its apparently uniform population of “ordinary people” should be force-fed it. What Kay and his co-writers understand better than they do is that no one is “ordinary”. Every life comes with its kinks and idiosyncrasies, its survival mechanisms, its share of demented dreams.

John (Kay) and Kayleigh (Sian Gibson, utterly endearing and giving the performance of a lifetime) work in a supermarket somewhere in the environs of Bolton. He’s management; she works on the shopfloor in promotions. They share a car – he drives – to and from work. In the first series, this was an arrangement they had reached reluctantly, as a result of a work-sanctioned scheme. In the second, they’re doing it by choice. In short, they love each other, though as yet this is unspoken, at least on his part. As they travel, they listen to a cheesy radio station, Forever FM, which plays old hits, mostly from the 1980s (they’re in their forties, so this suits). Meanwhile, the world goes by: traffic jams and roundabouts, out-of-town superstores and suburban cul-de-sacs. It sounds bleak, and perhaps it is, in a way. You can’t ever see the horizon. But it’s summer, and the evenings are long, and everything is suffused with a soft light. Somehow, it takes you back.

They sing, they gossip, they tease, they reminisce, they laugh at one another’s jokes, and sometimes they have small battles, miniature fallings-out. In one episode – the finest of them all so far – they go to their work party dressed as Harry Potter (him) and Hagrid (her) and return home in the company of a Smurfette, also known as Elsie from the deli counter (a comic turn of cast-iron genius by Conleth Hill, the classical actor currently playing George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the West End of London).

Less accomplished writers than Kay, Gibson and Paul Coleman would have had the trio making gags about her blue face paint or singing the annoying Smurfs theme. But the show being truly brilliant, for the next 20 minutes no one mentions that there’s a huge, flirtatious Smurfette with a Northern Irish accent and an air that is at once vulnerable and slightly menacing in the front seat of John’s red Mini.

In this episode, loneliness – another of the themes in this series – threatens to rise up out of the drunken, early-hours darkness. But in the end they send it on its way. John and Kayleigh roll their eyes at Elsie’s vulgar antics but ultimately they’re glad of her, just as they’re glad of each other. John is a man who draws his neighbours’ curtains for them while they’re away; Kayleigh is a woman who can squeeze intense pleasure from almost anything, up to and including a two-for-one offer on tickets for a moderately rubbish safari park. I want them to be together so much. I clutch at their potential for happiness as if at straws. 

Peter Kay's Car Share. BBC

Body of missing toddler found under the couch of 'uninhabitable' Illinois house

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Police described the house as being "in a deplorable condition".

Space: Trump's Least Controversial Frontier

By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency have been no less rife with controversy and political infighting than his campaign. As the new administration settled into the White House, it unleashed a torrent of new policy plans and executive orders for the public to debate, producing a flood of stories competing for the public’s attention. But one area in particular seems to have flown under the radar, prompting no outrage and little parsing from Trump’s critics: the nation’s space policy.

This kind of policy is, of course, typically quite low on the priority list for a new president, especially when there are jobs to create, Cabinet positions to fill, health-care laws to repeal, tax codes to reform, allegations of Russian ties to avoid, and potholes to fix. Domestic and foreign affairs naturally get more attention than rocket launches, robotic missions to planets, and astronomical research, and Trump has yet to formally lay out his plan for the nation’s space goals. But according to several space-policy experts and historians, Trump has publicly discussed the country’s space program and exploration efforts more than other modern presidents have in their first stretches in office.

In the last few weeks, Trump has reminisced about the Apollo era, cheered a future Mars mission, and chatted with astronauts. He devoted a recent Saturday address to space telescopes, praising the achievements of Hubble and getting excited about the James Webb. He signed a NASA bill into law, a tiny legislative win in a long list of mostly unchecked boxes. On Monday, the beginning of a week that would see headlines about his tax-reform proposal, a trade dispute with Canada, his former adviser Michael Flynn’s involvement with Russian and Turkish governments, and a revealing interview in which he admitted he “never realized how big it was” of a job to be president, Trump made time to place a long-distance video call from the Oval Office to the American astronauts on the International Space Station.

Trump has made time for the space program, and, unlike in other policy areas, it hasn’t cost him. His remarks receive little attention relative to the rest of the news cycle, getting swept away in the current. Space exploration, it appears, has presented a rarity in the Trump administration so far: It’s not controversial.

“It seems to me to indicate that somebody in the Trump inner circle thinks space is a good issue for him,” said John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University who founded the school’s Space Policy Institute in 1987.

Space policy has given Trump an opportunity to deploy his signature sweeping praise with little risk of backlash. Missions take years to develop and execute, usually outlasting presidents and absolving them of any accountability. The space program has historically enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, so it’s usually a safe bet for any politician. There’s the usual wrangling between the White House and Congress over NASA’s budget, but the experience is usually less painful compared to that of other federal agencies.

To the majority of the public, NASA is not another bureaucratic mess inside the government, but the inspiration machine for future generations. In other words, NASA gets good ratings, and Trump has been publicly effusive about how much good ratings mean to him. And who would begrudge Trump for wanting to put “American footprints on distant worlds,” as he said in his first address to Congress? Few things make a president look more presidential than vowing to brave the next frontier, to “do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

It’s important to note that Trump’s enthusiasm for the space program does not extend to other efforts at NASA, like its climate-change research. The president’s proposed budget, which included cuts in the funding of science and health agencies across the board, calls for eliminating $102 million from NASA’s Earth science division and the cancellation of four Earth-observation missions.

Space-policy experts have been taking much of what Trump has said about the space program with a sizable grain of salt. His administration has yet to name a new head of NASA or provide updates on its promise to revive a National Space Council, a high-level advisory council on space activities last used under the first Bush administration. The administration appears to be putting off any big policy decisions until appointments are made, according to news reports.

But there has been some action. In February, the White House asked NASA to consider adding a human crew to the inaugural test launch of the Space Launch System, which will occur sometime in early 2019. NASA hadn’t planned on including astronauts on the first flight. But there appears to be a motivation inside the White House to speed up certain initiatives. “The common thread among many of the policy options, transition and industry officials said, is a focus on projects able to attract widespread voter support that realistically can be completed during Mr. Trump’s current four-year presidential term,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Such a sense of urgency was on full display during Trump’s call with the International Space Station this week.

“What do you see a timing for actually sending humans to Mars? Is there a schedule? And when would you see that happening?” Trump asked Peggy Whitson, the commander of the station.

“Well, I think as your bill directed, it will be approximately in the 2030s,” Whitson replied.

“Well, we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second term,” Trump said. “So we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, okay?”

Whitson laughed. “We’ll do our best,” she said.

“I think we’ll do it a lot sooner than we’re even thinking,” Trump said later in the call.

It wasn’t clear whether the president was serious about sending humans to Mars in the next four years, or making a joke that jibes with a campaign promise of rapid change. Either way, it would be impossible. The United States doesn’t have any crew launch capabilities of its own, and pays Russia millions of dollars to send its astronauts to space. And then there’s the science. Several stories appeared explaining what kind of engineering feats it would take to transport a crew to Mars that fast, with Sarah Fecht at Popular Science with perhaps the best response: a time machine. Asked to clarify the statement, a White House spokesman offered only that “the president has already taken steps to refocus NASA on its core mission of exploration.”

Trump’s insistence either showed enthusiasm or a lack of understanding of mission goals, experts said. But it’s not the job of a president to know the ins and outs of space exploration, and it’s not important if he does, Logsdon said. NASA welcomes the interest, no matter how unrealistic. “If the president’s lips move and he says positive things about the space program, that’s good for the space program,” Logsdon said. “I’m not sure Ronald Reagan knew a lot about the space program, but he said the right words.”

The politics are good, even if the physics aren’t.

Ohio mother points gun at barber because her son's haircut is taking too long

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

"I got two clips. I'll pop you!" she reportedly said to stunned barbers at the Cleveland shop.

The Government Is Staying Open—For Now

By Russell Berman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Updated on April 28 at 12:05 p.m. ET

President Trump isn’t getting a health-care vote to mark his 100th day in office, but he won’t be saddled with a government shutdown, either.

The House and Senate voted in quick succession on Friday morning to extend federal funding for another week past a midnight deadline as negotiators try to reach an agreement on a large spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Democrats had briefly threatened to hold up the stopgap measure if Republicans tried to jam through their stalled American Health Care Act. But GOP leaders still can’t find enough support among their members for the proposal, and their decision on Thursday night to again put off a vote defused—for now—the shutdown threat.

Negotiators have mostly agreed on the spending levels for the larger omnibus appropriations bill, but Senator Charles Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, said Friday they were still haggling over a few extraneous policy provisions that Republicans were insisting on including in the bill. “We still have a little bit of a ways to go, and we still have some poison-pill riders that they haven’t dropped yet,” he said. Democrats determined that enough progress had been made to okay the week-long extension.

A pair of reversals by Trump helped move the talks forward earlier in the week. First, the president backed off his demand that the spending bill include money to begin development of a southern border wall, which Democrats refused to support. Then the White House told Democratic leaders that contrary to an earlier Trump threat, the administration would continue making subsidy payments to health insurers as part of the Affordable Care Act, which are considered crucial to maintaining the stability of the individual market.

After passage of the stopgap bill on Friday, Congress now has until May 5 to strike a broader deal.

'Zombie drug' Spice so dangerous that dark web drug dealers warn against buying it

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The synthetic cannabinoid is a former legal high becoming a major health concern.

Pictures of the week 22 to 28 April: Seven days of photography from around the world

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

A selection of photographs, covering a variety of topics from current events to animals, politics and travel.

Donald Trump stops interview to brag about the size of his election win

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Trump presented each of the reporters with a map highlighting his win.

Anti-Temer strike paralyses major cities in Brazil

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

Demonstrators protest President Temer's proposed pension reform plans and other measures that will hit them financially.

NewsGrid - Al Jazeera's interactive news hour

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

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

Trumponomics quiz

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

Test your knowledge of the first 100 days of Donald Trump's Presidency

What the French Election Might Have Looked Like in America

By Uri Friedman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Marine Le Pen—the far-right populist-nationalist who has advanced to the second round of the French presidential election along with the centrist, internationalist Emmanuel Macron—might today be the 25th president of the Republic if France had America’s electoral system, according to a new analysis from The Economist. The magazine envisions an alternate universe where France’s 18 regions function like U.S. states and the country’s two-phase presidential campaign morphs into a collège électoral.

The math is rough and the imagined outcome depends on support for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon ultimately shifting toward Le Pen. (While this may be a stretch, it’s not an impossibility: Melenchon and Le Pen are far apart ideologically, but they are both opposed to globalization, the European Union, and the political establishment.) Still, the thought experiment is instructive:

Just as in the United States, a French electoral college would have negated the liberal candidate’s advantage in the popular vote. Although Mr Macron prevailed in the two biggest regions, Ms Le Pen came first in seven of the next nine. The result would be a stunning tie: the two leaders would have received 90 electoral votes each, with the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon claiming ten (all from overseas regions) and the conservative François Fillon a paltry three.

Using these rules, no candidate would have won a majority of the electoral college. As a result, under the system implemented by the 12th amendment to the United States constitution in 1804, the House of Representatives would then pick the victor, with each region getting one vote regardless of its size. Assuming that each region supported the candidate that won it, the contender supported by the majority of regions would be named president.

With eight of the eighteen regions to her name, Ms Le Pen would be only two short of an absolute majority. Mr Macron would be behind with six (and likely also supported by Mr Fillon’s one region). It would be up to supporters of Mr Mélenchon, who won three regions, to pick the next president: the future of Europe would rest on the radical left of France.

France, of course, is not the United States. But that’s precisely what’s striking about The Economist’s calculations. They are a reminder to not over-interpret the strength or weakness of populism based on any one data point.

Since the French political system differs from America’s, Macron and Le Pen are days away from a runoff vote that Macron—who has been endorsed by many of his former political rivals—is heavily favored to win. This development, coming after narrow populist victories in Britain and the United States, and more recently narrow populist defeats in Austria and the Netherlands, has produced headlines like “Macron’s strong finish in the French election shows populist wave may be ebbing” and “France election results deliver another blow to anti-EU populists.”

What would those headlines look like had Le Pen attracted a similar level of support in a different political system?

The outcomes of elections and referendums typically tell us whether populists will be empowered to implement their policy agenda. (Even here things aren’t always clear-cut; had the far-right populist Geert Wilders finished first in the recent Dutch election, he still wouldn’t have found coalition partners to form a government.) But what those outcomes indicate about the rise and fall of populism is much more complicated than who won and lost the vote.

If there is such a thing as a populist “wave” these days, Albert Trithart of the International Peace Institute has written, it breaks “against each country differently depending on the economic and cultural changes it is undergoing, the landscape of its political parties, and the design and durability of its political institutions.” In democracies with proportional representation (e.g. the Netherlands), for example, it’s relatively easy for populists on the political fringes to obtain seats in a legislature but relatively hard for them to make the leap to actually running government. In democracies where representation isn’t necessarily apportioned according to the popular vote (e.g. the United States), it’s the opposite. Non-proportional electoral systems typically bar small populist parties from government. But if support for those parties suddenly soars, or if populist politicians manage to seize control of a major party, they can burst into government in dramatic fashion. Witness Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party in the United States. (Whether Trump is truly a populist, especially given the policies he’s pursued so far, is debatable, but he campaigned as one.)

As the political scientist Robin Best recently told me, if the 2016 U.S. presidential election had occurred in the Netherlands, it probably would have mirrored the result of the Dutch election: The right-wing populist party, led by Trump, would have finished in second place and been frozen out of government. The American election, transported into a European parliamentary democracy, might have resembled the tight race that The Economist dreamed up last summer:

The U.S. election didn’t turn out these ways. And that’s as much a testament to America’s political system as it is a statement about how ripe America was for populism relative to Austria or Britain or France or the Netherlands. The votes in all these countries have clearly demonstrated that populism, and notably right-wing populism, is a newly disruptive force in politics and an outgrowth of broader trends, including deepening dissatisfaction with representative democracy, the diffusion of political power and loyalty, and the resurgence of nationalism and nativism. In a number of cases though, what’s happened next has been dictated not by these big forces but by the humdrum rules and procedures that distinguish one political system from another.

Jump in eurozone inflation strengthens calls to end QE

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Mario Draghi is under pressure to abandon ECB stimulus programme

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Getty

Ukip's "integration agenda" is another lurch away from the mainstream

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Ukip's only chance of survival is on the nativist fringe. It won't be a happy - or successful - existence. 

After Ukip leader Paul Nuttall failed to steal a famous by-election victory in Stoke-on-Trent, his party’s militant tendency offered a prompt and simple diagnosis: the party was just too nice.

Two months on, with Nuttall now pledging to ban the burqa, sharia courts, new Islamic schools, subject girls from at-risk backgrounds to yearly female genital mutilation checks and make race an aggravating factor in some offences, they are unlikely to making those same complaints. Of the many criticisms one can make of the controversial policy blitz, a surfeit of niceness isn’t one of them – even if Nuttall is comparing himself to Gandhi. But what explains Ukip’s lurch deep into Breitbart territory – and what does it mean for the future of the party?

It’s tempting to chalk this one up as a victory for the hardliners who derided Nuttall – who, absurd though it seems now, was Ukip’s unity candidate – and his attempts to court women voters with a softer, “Nicekip” platform. It’s true that Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, loathed by the fags-and-flags wing of the party for their wet anti-Faragism and prim sensibilities, are safely gone. Liberated from the strain of, erm, having an MP, the true believers have taken back control.

That neat analysis quickly falls down when one takes a look at the chippiest defenders of Ukip’s new “integration agenda”: Suzanne Evans and Patrick O’Flynn. Once the pair were at the vanguard of the push to unseat Farage and chart a friendlier tack into Tory seats in the Shires. Now they try and spin policies that could be justly criticised with a favourite Carswell slur – “ugly nativism” – as a sort of noble muscular secularism. That they of all people are endorsing the new line underlines just how much trouble Ukip are in. Deprived of their ownership of Brexit, the party has little, if anything, left to offer the political mainstream.

The consequences have been felt more keenly inside the party than in the country, where Ukip has plunged to below 5 per cent in some polls. Plenty would argue that the party – even at their high watermark around 2014 – never operated within the mainstream currents of political thought anyway, instead dragging the Tories to the right. But it was always an uneasy and at times barely coherent coalition between the authoritarian and libertarian right, united only by their rejection of Europe. For the latter, Ukip isn’t about opposition to the sensibilities of polite society but compatibility with them. Theirs is a focus on grammar schools, hard graft and flat taxes, not smearing Romanians and hanging child murderers.

Whatever the likes of O’Flynn and Evans say, though, Ukip has now ceded that libertarian ground it once had claim to. Disgruntled and departed Kippers point to Nuttall’s loss in Stoke-on-Trent Central as the reason why.

“Since the focus on the EU has gone, and after the election in Stoke, there have been people within the Ukip NEC trying to drive the party towards the far-right,” says Tariq Mahmood, a practicing Muslim and self-styled libertarian who stood for the party in neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent South in 2015. He has since joined the Conservatives, and complains that efforts to court the aspirational middle classes and British Muslims (among whom he says Ukip are now “100 per cent” finished) have been jettisoned in favour of what an essentially nativist platform. While Ukip stress that their beef is with cultural practices and not Islam, Mahmood believes that argument is a mere figleaf - and Ukip, he says, know the distinction will be lost on many people. 

“It was an uphill struggle even previously to try to persuade individuals that we were a libertarian party and that we were not hostile to any individual belief,” he adds, ruefully. “Now, with what Peter Whittle and Paul [Nuttall] have said on integration, and with the prevailing mood with the NEC, the strategy seems to be to create division.”

The logic behind this ideological retrenchment is clear enough. Though Ukip stood in 624 seats at the 2015 election, insiders acknowledge that they are unlikely to reach anywhere near that total this time. Its chances of winning even one seat are perilously slim, as is painfully clear from Nuttall's prevarication as to whether he'll stand or where exactly. Resources will instead be poured into a handful of target seats that broke heavily for leave last June, and the party’s (white) core demographic courted much more ruthlessly. 

But those resources, historically scant anyway, have been depleted by its rightward lurch: both Mahmood and Owais Rajput, a former parliamentary candidate in Bradford East, speak of a flight of Asian members from the party. “There’s nothing left for me, other than to resign. It’s not only me – there are lots of other British citizens of Muslim faith who are following me as well,” he told me on the day Ukip dropped its new policies. “Their policy, long-term, is to try to create division in local communities, which is very, very dangerous.”

Both agree that Ukip’s future is as an ethnic nationalist party, which Nuttall and those around him have vigorously denied. But if that is the party’s strategy, it’s a witless one. Ukip has already swallowed most of those votes already, as the decline of the British National Party shows, and the electoral ceiling for those politics is a low one. The party may well tighten its grip on its small demographic core, but will hasten the flight of softer members and voters to the Tories.

Its breakneck change of pace will also bodes ill for its survival as a cohesive fighting force. There will inevitably be further tension among its febrile cohort of elected politicians. Nuttall’s foreign affairs spokesman, West Midlands MEP Jim Carver, this week resigned his post in protest at the burqa ban proposal (“I’m an old liberal,” he told me. “You’ve got to have that freedom of choice.”). He insists he won’t be quitting, and likened Ukip’s internal wrangles to those in other parties. “What you’ve got to is call out people you disagree with,” he said. “Look at the stick that people like Tom Watson is getting from Momentum! This isn’t just happening in Ukip. There’s a tug of war going in all political parties.”  

But Carver is a Ukip member of abnormal vintage, having joined the party in 1996. For others the allegiance cannot and will not hold as the party’s public face gets uglier and its electoral positioning even more uncompromising.  As the exodus of its 2015 supporters to the Tories shows, Ukip’s electoral cachet is a much more ephemeral thing than the parties of old. Senior figures protest that policing Brexit remains key to its policy platform.

Its new strategy underlines how the party cannot remain a broad church defined entirely by its opposition to Europe. “All I know,” Carver told me, “is that I’ve got to be true to my principles”. Recent events prove for most of the wetter wing of his party, that will mean leaving.

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Mixed messages: Is cocaine consumption in the U.S. going up or down?

By Beau Kilmer, Greg Midgette from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The 50 percent decline in U.S. cocaine consumption from 2006 to 2010 was regarded as monumental, but data now suggest that cocaine overdose deaths are increasing in the United States. Meanwhile, the amount of land used to cultivate coca in Colombia nearly doubled from 2013 to 2015. While it seems plausible to associate these recent…
      
 
 

Helping Law Enforcement Use Data from Mobile Applications

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Mobile devices automatically and unobtrusively collect data about their users. This report documents a prototype tool created to help interested stakeholders better understand this mobile app ecosystem, and its use by law enforcement.

Week in pictures: From Macedonia protests to Earth Day

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

From protests in Macedonia, Brazil and Venezuela to March for Science and Earth Day, here is the week in photos.

Why remembering the Holocaust matters more than ever

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

Auschwitz survivor Philip Riteman says the Holocaust must be remembered so 'it doesn't happen again'.

Facebook Data ‘Does Not Contradict’ Intelligence on Russia Meddling

By Adrienne LaFrance from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Less than six months ago, Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that the social publishing platform he founded was being used to manipulate voters as “pretty crazy.”

But in a new report, Facebook now says it has data that “does not contradict” a key U.S. intelligence report that describes “information warfare” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and carried out on Facebook and across the web.

“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” officials wrote in a declassified version of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence report in January. Guided by the Russian government’s “clear preference” for Donald Trump, the DNI report said, Moscow followed a strategy “that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’” Scholars have long theorized about the possibility of people manipulating public opinion on Facebook—Facebook itself carried out a mood experiment on its users—but U.S. intelligence officials call Moscow’s latest meddling “unprecedented.”

Facebook stopped just short of identifying Russia in its report, but also emphasized that it is “not in a position to make definitive attribution to the actors sponsoring this activity,” which it said represented only a small portion of the activity Facebook tracks on its platform.

Facebook acknowledged more broadly that it has a problem with what it calls “information operations,” government-run efforts to use Facebook to manipulate public opinion, distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, and influence the outcome of elections.

In many cases, such information operations are aimed at gaming Facebook’s algorithm, using tactics like the mass creation of fake accounts and the creation of groups populated by those accounts.

Fake accounts and misleading groups then carry out coordinated campaigns designed to amplify a message: They do this by simultaneously sharing and liking the same Facebook posts en masse, rapidly posting the same information across multiple groups at once, and spreading sensationalistic or heavily biased headlines as a way to distort facts and fit a narrative. These groups can be hard to detect because they often post legitimate and unrelated content, as well, “ostensibly to deflect from their real purpose,” Facebook says.  

Facebook says it detected several “subtle and insidious” kinds of coordinated attempts to harm the reputation of “specific political targets” during the 2016 campaign, describing “malicious actors leveraging conventional and social media to share information stolen from other sources, such as email accounts, with the intent of harming the reputation of specific political targets.” Spokespeople for Facebook declined to answer my questions about which political target and stolen email information the Facebook report was referring to, but the intelligence report that Facebook links to describes “high confidence” in the assessment that Russian intelligence relayed hacked emails between senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton. “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,”  the DNI report says. “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

Without mentioning Russia or WikiLeaks, however, Facebook describes actors that create fake personas on Facebook as a way to direct people to the stolen data. “From there, organic proliferation of the messaging and data through authentic peer groups and networks was inevitable,” Facebook wrote.

At the same time, malicious actors would use fake Facebook accounts to “push narratives and themes that reinforced or expanded on some of the topics exposed from stolen data,” including attempts to seed stories with journalists and other third parties. Facebook didn’t describe the stories themselves. “We detect this activity by analyzing the inauthenticity of the account and its behaviors, and not the content the accounts are publishing,” its report said.

In an attempt to mitigate state-run information operations, Facebook says it is, in some cases, sending notifications to specific people who have been targeted by sophisticated attackers—as well as sending warnings to people who “have yet to be targeted, but whom we believe may be at risk based on the behavior of particular malicious actors.”

Though Facebook says it is already taking steps to crack down on networks of fake accounts—it took action against at least 30,000 fake accounts aimed at manipulating the outcome of the recent French election, it may be more difficult for the social platform to fight back against a larger threat. Namely, state-sponsored efforts concerned with sowing distrust and spreading confusion, including “purposefully muddying civic discourse and pitting rival factions against one another” as a way to weaken people’s faith in institutions.

“In this case, fake account operators may not have a topical focus, but rather seek to undermine the status quo of political or civil society institutions on a more strategic level,” Facebook said in its report. “In several instances, we identified malicious actors on Facebook who, via inauthentic accounts, actively engaged across the political spectrum with the apparent intent of increasing tensions between supporters of these groups and fracturing their supportive base.”

In other words, the problem isn’t just that the Kremlin may be spreading bad information on Facebook as a way to influence the outcome of U.S. elections. It’s that governments are manipulating ordinary Facebook users by getting them to act as unknowing agents of propaganda.

“Everyone is a potential amplifier,” Facebook said. Pretty crazy, maybe. But still true.

Thailand police get arrest warrant for Red Bull heir

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

Current whereabouts of Vorayuth Yoovidhya, accused of a deadly hit-and-run accident in 2012, remain unknown.

Clamping down on whistle-blowers a 'retrograde' step

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

Whistle-blowers should be aware of how politicians use their leaks, but governments must protect - not punish - them.

Lawyer calls for probe into Arkansas execution

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

Witness says Kenneth Williams' body lurched and convulsed 20 times when he was put to death by lethal injection.

What Does a Girlboss Look Like?

By Sophie Gilbert from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Sophia (Britt Robertson), the heroine of the new Netflix show Girlboss, is a fierce 20-something living in San Francisco, raiding vintage stores for her glam-rock wardrobe and telling anyone who’ll listen that adulthood is where dreams go to die and conformity is a prison. Carol (Andrea Martin), the standout star of the new NBC series Great News, is a 60-year-old mom from New Jersey whose entire wardrobe consists of three-quarter-length pants from Chico’s, and whose defining trait is getting along with everybody. Sophia dumpster-dives for snacks and steals with abandon; Carol clips coupons and hoards off-brand toothpaste. One is a self-proclaimed badass and rebel; the other confesses in the first episode that she once cleaned barf out of the tape deck of a Teddy Ruxpin.

Girlboss presents a rags-to-IPO-ready-riches story of success that’s familiar by now: An outlandish misfit converts her personal passion project into a thriving business, enabled by an abrasive amount of go-getterness and the fairy dust of the early-aughts internet. Still, you may find yourself more compelled by the story of Carol, who decides one day that it’s not too late to live her dream, and gets an internship at the same New Jersey cable-news show where her daughter works as a producer. Both Great News and Girlboss are half-hour shows created by alums from the long-running NBC comedy 30 Rock. But if Girlboss knows exactly what empowerment looks like (rolling on a bed strewn with dollar bills while dressed for Coachella), Great News is more imaginative. Carol may be a mom with no professional experience who appends all her Google searches with, “Sincerely, Carol Wendelsohn,” but she won’t let any of that limit her goals.

Girlboss is loosely based on the behashtagged memoir of the same name by the fashion entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso, who created Nasty Gal, a vintage eBay store, at the age of 23, before channelling its online fame into a clothing label that at its height had annual revenue of $24 million. In #Girlboss, published in 2014, Amoruso presents the story of her life, and how, in eight years, she went from “a broke, anarchist ‘freegan’ dead set on smashing the system to a millionaire businesswoman who today is as at home in the boardroom as she is in the dressing room.” In the first episode of the show, the fictional Sophia—so young, scrappy, and hungry that she eats her boss’s sandwich then sneeringly calls her a middle-manager—gets fired from her job at a shoe store. Broke and under threat of eviction, she buys a leather jacket from a thrift store for $9 and sells it on eBay for several hundred dollars, which leads her to realize she can channel her eye for clothing into a viable source of income.

Robertson is quirkily charming as Sophia, and the show, written in large part by its creator Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), includes both a convincing arc toward maturity for the character and some ingenious lines (Sophia’s friend tells her she’s a working girl with “a head for business and a bod for teen-catalog modeling”). But it’s hampered in the first ten episodes by the fact that Sophia is so awful. Selfish, stubborn, arrogant, and entitled, she steals profusely (a sandwich, a book, and a Persian rug in the first two episodes alone), tells her boss that his job is a soul-crushing joke and her boyfriend that he’s a glorified errand boy, and refuses to include her best friend in her business (“Everything you do could be done by an intern,” she spits over IM). Robertson’s interpretation of the character is part-Juno MacGuff, part-Jesse Pinkman (“This is delicious, yo,” she enthuses about bowtie pasta with butter), but Sophia’s actions feel far more aligned with Jordan Belfort. For a former anarchist freegan, she has a depressingly unimaginative view of what happiness might mean to her: “a dream house, a Corvette, a fucking jacuzzi … really, everything that Barbie has.”

The primary difference between Girlboss and Great News is that the first fetishizes success while the second finds its best punchlines in failure. (This may change where Girlboss is concerned: Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy last year, and Cannon has stated that the development might be incorporated into future seasons.) Great News was created by Tracey Wigfield and executive produced by Tina Fey, who mentored Wigfield in her rise from writer’s assistant to staff writer on 30 Rock. Its pilot, which is notably weaker than the rest of the show, introduces Katie (Briga Heelan), an ambitious 30-year-old news producer trying to persuade her male bosses that she’s capable of tackling hard stories. She’s appalled when her mother is somehow hired as an intern on the very same show she works for, but the development turns out to be a boon: Carol is exactly what the team needs, using her motherly instincts to fuss over the show’s vain anchor (John Michael Higgins) and to push Katie out of her comfort zone.

Heelan’s Katie is endearingly awkward, but considerably less so than her ultimate foremother, Liz Lemon. She’s competent as a producer, and clued-in enough to her own desires to reject her mother’s insistence that she chase an on-camera job. Great News also gently rebuffs the kind of self-promotional verve that drives Sophia with the character of Portia (Nicole Richie), a news anchor who’s also a social-media influencer, a young-adult author, and the star of a fictional upcoming “NBC live musical event.” But even Portia, who boasts about getting career advice from “my mentor, Roger Ailes,” and tells Katie that sleeping with bosses is actually empowering, is professionally adept. If anything, Great News appears to have an amount of respect for her entrepreneurial spirit.

It might seem unfair to compare the two shows, since both are welcome exceptions to the male-dominated creative teams of television (Girlboss’s executive producers, who include the actress Charlize Theron, are all women, while Great News’s writers’ room is majority-female). By the end of Girlboss, Sophia has evolved enough to know that her success isn’t down to her efforts alone, and that real empowerment means lifting others along with you. But getting to that point involves an exhausting amount of narcissism and a distorted view of the world. When Sophia is seen in flashback, locked up by stadium security for wrenching a baseball out of the hands of a five-year-old at a Giants game, her new friend Annie (Ellie Reed) offers her a makeover. “You’re so beautiful,” Annie says, “and you’re hiding it from the world. I guarantee that if you weren’t, no one would have been mad that you stole a ball from a kid.”

That kind of sentiment—that if you’re young and you look just right, you can get away with the kind of behavior that might seem intolerable coming from someone less impeccably styled, or less confident—feels of a piece with the era the show is set in (2006). But the definition of empowerment has shifted since then. Carol, with her “Bombay Thanksgiving” perfume and her defiantly mom-ish outfits, might be the antithesis of a Nasty Gal shopper (“I refuse to stand here and be lectured to by someone who can only afford three quarters of a pant,” the huffy owner of the network tells her). But she’s bold enough to envision her desires, even in her 60s, and savvy enough to know how her natural skills can elevate the lives of the people around her. “I don’t want to believe that dreams have expiration dates,” she confesses at one point—the kind of attitude that arguably makes her the most boss-ish girl of all.

Europe’s leaders start sounding tough on Brexit

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Interventions by Merkel and Macron give a frostier tone to British-EU relations

The pope visits Egypt

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

“SHOW me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” So said Manuel II Palaiologos, a Byzantine emperor, of Islam’s founder. Some six centuries later, in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI used the quotation in a speech about reason and religion. The Muslim world was not pleased.

Jorge Bergoglio, then a cardinal in Argentina, criticised Benedict’s comments. In 2013, when Father Bergoglio succeeded Pope Benedict, taking the name of Francis, he immediately called for more interfaith dialogue. Two weeks later, when the new pope washed the feet of prisoners in Rome, a Christian ritual, he included two Muslims. In 2014 he toured Jordan, Israel and Palestine, further mending the Vatican’s relations with Islam.

Pope Francis hopes to continue improving relations between Christians and Muslims when he visits Cairo on April 28th-29th, the first such trip since...Continue reading

Ndileka Mandela: Zuma should listen and step down

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

Nelson Mandela's granddaughter tells Al Jazeera that President 'Zuma should listen to the people and step down'.

Trump's Presidential Status Anxiety

By McKay Coppins from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.

In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!”

This explains why we are now witnessing the White House in mad-scramble mode—frantically reaching for last-minute “accomplishments” to placate the president, and pad his record. The closer Trump gets to the hundred-day marker, it seems, the more erratically he flings major legislative initiatives at the wall in hopes that something will stick.

Last week, Trump abruptly pledged to unveil a “massive” tax-cut plan in the coming days—an announcement that reportedly surprised even his own staff. To meet their boss’s deadline, they rushed out a single-page document—bullet-pointed, double-spaced, 229 words long—that resembled a homework assignment hastily completed in the stall during a bathroom break. Skeptics scoffed, Democrats balked, and even White House officials have struggled to articulate their “plan.”

Meanwhile, with a government shutdown fast approaching, Trump threatened to blow up budget negotiations with an outlandish—and politically unviable—demand that the funding bill include money for a border wall. (He eventually had to back down.) And with just 48 hours left in his first hundred days, Trump embarked on a quixotic last-ditch bid to jam an Obamacare replacement bill through the House before the weekend—whip counts be damned. (Speaker Paul Ryan refused to bring it to a vote Thursday night.)

This flurry of ill-considered activity might seem needlessly volatile and self-defeating—but it’s part of a larger pattern of behavior. This is, after all, not the first time a major milestone in Trump’s career has sent him spiraling into resentment and recklessness.

As I’ve written before, Trump’s angriest outbursts often accompany his greatest moments of recognition or triumph. He won the Republican nomination, and spent the next week feuding with Gold Star parents and complaining that Hillary Clinton didn’t adequately congratulate him. He won the election, and spent the transition fighting with celebrities and championing a voter-fraud conspiracy theory. He was sworn in as the 45th  president of the United States, and spent the weekend fuming over the size of his inauguration crowd.

Trump is a Queens-born billionaire who has spent his life chasing validation from elites who hold him in disdain. With each new benchmark he reaches, he holds out hope that it will finally quiet his chorus of haters. And when he realizes they’re still laughing at him, he acts out. Consider, now, what Trump is likely seeing these days when he turns on his TV: presidential historians discussing the unparalleled failures of his first hundred days; polls showing an historically low approval rating; pundits depicting a presidency gripped by impotence. Given his recent history, an eruption was inevitable.

Earlier this week, the White House made a foray into the presidential legacy-measuring contest with a press release titled, “President Trump’s 100 Days of Historic Accomplishments.” Trump, we learned, had accomplished more than any president since FDR, passed more legislation than anyone since Truman, and done more to “stop the government from interfering in the lives of Americans” than any other president in history. As my colleague Elaine Godfrey noted, some of the figures supporting these claims were (perhaps unsurprisingly) wrong, and the press release was widely mocked on the internet for its predictable bombast. But maybe for Trump, the comparisons are about more than chest-thumping and ego-pumping.

With a hundred days behind him, Trump seems increasingly like a man disillusioned with his job, and disoriented by his place in history. “I loved my previous life. I had so many thing going,” Trump told Reuters this week. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

How do you watch The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu in the UK?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The short answer: you can't. Here's why. 

Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale has dominated cultural headlines this week. Whether it’s discussions of the feminism of the work, discussions of the cast’s denial of the feminism of the work, analysis of the feminist implications of the clothing, or, yes MORE discussion of the feminism of the work, it’s hard to read a newspaper or magazine without reading about this show. And that extends to British media, too, with articles and reviews appearing in UK sites the Week, Den of Geek, the Daily Mailthe Independent, the Telegraph and the Guardian.

And yet, as Katie Khan pointed out, there is no legal way for UK residents to watch it.

US residents are able to legally watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu’s video service, by either signing up for a free trial or paying $7.99 a month for the subscription. But it’s currently impossible to sign up from the UK (wihout illegally using a VPN to bypass geographic restrictions on licensing).

Responding to unhappy Brits on Twitter, Hulu explained: “Sorry! We don’t have int’l streaming rights for our content, so our service is not available outside the U.S. currently,” adding, “Expanding across the pond is part of our long-term goals. We’ll share your interest in this”.

The sheer popularity of the series could see a UK option rushed through, but in the mean time it raises questions of how or whether international media should cover cultural stories of huge US interest.

For those who can't wait to get involved in the debate, there is, of course, another option - read the book

Hulu

Using Electronic Record Data to Encourage Better Care

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Smart algorithms built on electronic record data and documented outcomes may make it possible to anticipate a patient's future health care needs.

Sadiq Khan's decision to scrap the Garden Bridge is a victory for ordinary Londoners

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Perhaps the rich really do want to give something back to London. If they do, I'm sure it'll be lovely. But if they don't, I'm bloody glad I don't have to pay for it.

The obvious question about the Garden Bridge is: where did it all go wrong?

The bridge, after all, should have been a lovely addition to the fabric of the city. An oasis of greenery in an area devoid of it, a new way of crossing the river and a new tourist attraction, akin to New York's High Line, all rolled into one. The Garden Bridge was not like the hilariously pointless “Emirates Air Line”, the cable car to nowhere which is even now ferrying empty pods between two windswept ex-industrial estates in a deserted bit of east London, like one of the follies listed by Marge Simpson at the end of Marge vs the Monorail. The Garden Bridge should have been great.

Yet in the years since it was first proposed, it's sunk further and further into controversy. The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity responsible for getting it built, has failed to raise enough money or acquire the land required to start construction before planning permission runs out this December. Official reports have repeatedly raised questions about the Trust's financial plans.

And today's news that London's mayor Sadiq Khan has written to the Garden Bridge Trust to tell it that the taxpayer would not provide the financial guarantees required for work to continue – effectively killing the scheme – is more likely to be celebrated than mourned. So how did something so lovely end up so loathed?

The obvious explanation is the growing sense that the whole thing has been a bit of a con. When first the bridge was proposed, the intention was that it would be largely privately funded, with just a smidgen of Transport for London money required to get things moving.

The longer things went on, though, the more the ratio between those two sources of funding seemed to change. The predicted cost of the bridge continued to climb; yet the amount of money promised by private donors first flatlined, then began to slide.

So the amount of cash the taxpayer was going to have to put into this thing soared, with no end in sight: without a clear plan for funding the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge, it seemed likely to become a permanent line in the capital's own budget. As a result what had once been pitched as a gift to London began looking more and more like a pointless indulgence we would have to pay for ourselves. It felt like we’d been had.

But I think there's another, more philosophical reason why a lovely idea like a Garden Bridge should have become so unpopular: it fitted with a lingering sense that something has gone terribly wrong with this city.

We are, after all, in the middle of a housing crisis, which is seeing even relatively well-off people forced out of the city, and which has forced untold numbers to live in tiny under-regulated patches of squalor. The official definition of “Affordable Housing” has become a bad joke, yet new housing developments bend over backwards to avoid making even this limited provision. And in the midst of all this, the most visible property developments aren't much-needed homes for the masses, but commercial skyscrapers and luxury apartments.

Contemporary London prides itself on its tolerance and diversity and the way different social classes are all jumbled up together, without any of the ghettoisation seen in, say, Paris. Yet huge chunks of what look like public space are now private estates, often patrolled by private security. In our flattering, metropolitan liberal self-image, this isn't what London is meant to be.

It was, however, exactly what the Garden Bridge was going to be: a private garden masquerading as public space, yet funded by the taxpayer. The people most determined to see it built were a flotilla of rich, posh people: Boris Johnson, George Osborne, Thomas Heatherwick, Joanna Lumley. They were not us, but them – yet still they expected us to pay for it.

And then, once in a while, the bridge would close so that an investment bank or a private equity firm could throw a garden party, drinking champagne and eating canapes in full view of London as a whole, on a bridge we paid for but which we were not allowed to cross.

Perhaps the project isn't dead. Perhaps the Garden Bridge Trust will somehow find enough donors to get it finished without taxpayer support, and even find a way of funding its upkeep. Perhaps the rich really do want to give something back to London. If they do, I'm sure it'll be lovely.

But if they don't, I'm bloody glad we will no longer have to pay for it. This city has quite enough symbols of economic division as it is.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric, where this blog post was originall published. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

 

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Spring storms sweep across the southern United States

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

Residents in the southern states prepare for severe spring weather.

Is there a future for the EFF in S. Africa after Zuma?

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

Julius Malema is using the EFF to maintain his political relevance whilst waiting for Zuma’s departure from the ANC.

Trump 100 days: Who has he met and when?

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

President Donald Trump has not left the US since taking office in January 2017.

Donald Trump’s con artistry gives him a chance to win a second term

By Mehdi Hasan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

There is a reason why so many conmen get away with it: their victims don’t want to admit to themselves, let alone to others, that they were taken in.

“Life doesn’t imitate art,” Woody Allen once remarked, “it imitates bad television.” Back in May 1958, an episode of the CBS drama Trackdown, set in the Wild West, featured a conman named Walter Trump, who pledged to build a wall to protect a small town from the end of the world. “I am the only one,” Trump told local people. “Trust me. I can build a wall around your homes that nothing will penetrate.” The show’s narrator referred to the Trump character as “the high priest of fraud”.

It’s difficult not to think of Walter Trump when you hear Donald Trump speak of the “big, beautiful wall” he wants to build along the border with Mexico. Throughout last year’s election campaign, the property tycoon assured Republican voters that Mexico would “pay” for the wall “100 per cent”. “Trust me,” he said. Yet, in recent days, it has become clear that it is the US taxpayer who will have to stump up the money for Trump’s signature proposal. “He may not spend much time trying to get Mexico to pay for it,” the Republican former House speaker Newt Gingrich, his close ally, admitted in an interview two days after Trump’s victory.
“But it was a great campaign device.”

Indeed it was. So, too, were his vicious attacks on his Democratic opponents. He spent more than five years cultivating support among the Republican grass roots by leading a racist “birther” campaign against Barack Obama, only to announce, on the eve of the election, that “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period”. He received cheers from his supporters on the campaign trail when he referred to Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” and declared she “should be in prison”. Yet when those same supporters began chanting “Lock her up” at a post-election rally in December, Trump responded: “Forget it. That plays great before the election. Now, we don’t care, right?”

All politicians lie, mislead and deceive. Yet most do so for open and obvious reasons – to get elected, to seek power, to advance their vision or ideology. Trump, however, “is a con artist”, says Maria Konnikova, the acclaimed author of The Confidence Game.

What distinguishes the con artist from the average politician, she tells me, is that the former is willing to “take advantage of other people’s confidence for their own personal ends and those ends are not what they say they are”. The reason Trump is a con artist rather than a politician is that he is clearly using “politics as a means to an ulterior end . . . to be rich or famous or loved or legendary”. Trump doesn’t give a damn about parties or policies; politics is merely a tool for his own advancement.

Konnikova is not alone in her assessment of the president. During the GOP ­primaries, one of Trump’s main rivals, Marco ­Rubio, tried to convince voters not to buy the snake oil that Trump was selling them. “A con artist is about to take over the conservative movement and the Republican Party,” he said. But voters were in no mood to listen – only 11 per cent opted for Rubio, a Republican senator; 45 per cent went with Trump, a former pro-choice, pro-gun-control donor to the Democratic Party.

How did this huckster from Manhattan, with no discernible principles or ideology, and a long history of stiffing both his contractors and the students at Trump University, dupe millions of rural Republican voters? Conmen are created by the yearning of their victims “to believe in something that gives life meaning”, Konnikova writes. “Their genius lies in figuring out what, precisely, it is we want, and how they can present themselves as the perfect vehicle for delivering on that desire.”

Trump did his homework, gathering reams of intel on his intended victims – his “marks” – long before he declared his presidential candidacy. According to New York magazine, his advisers spent “thousands of hours” listening to talk radio in 2014, briefing him on how “illegal” immigration was inflaming the GOP base. Consequently, while Jeb Bush began his campaign in 2015 by endorsing a de facto amnesty for undocumented immigrants, Trump raved about the height of his border wall and called Mexicans “rapists”.

The bigots and xenophobes in the GOP base lapped it up – and haven’t stopped. Trump’s first 100 days in the White House have been plagued by scandals, controversies, gaffes and shameless U-turns. Yet this nominally Republican president continues to command the loyalty of the Republican electorate. His approval rating among Republicans is roughly 80 per cent. Only 2 per cent of Trump voters regret their vote.

On a recent visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma, the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof found a group of working-class Trump voters “upset” and “aghast” with the president’s proposed budget cuts and the health-care reform debacle. Yet they all said that they might vote for Trump for re-election.

This is the classic cognitive dissonance associated with victims of a con artist, who refuse to see or act on the evidence in front of their own eyes. There is a reason why so many conmen get away with their crimes for so long: their victims don’t want to admit to themselves, let alone to others, that they were foolish or credulous enough to be taken in, so they don’t go to the police.

How do the Democrats get through to victims of Trump’s con? “I wish I had a very upbeat answer . . . a three-step process to get victims to admit they’re victims,” Konnikova says. But conmen such as Trump “appeal to people on a visceral, emotional level – and emotion trumps logic every time”.

So, what happens come 2020? How do you defeat a candidate who has mastered not merely the art of the deal but the art of the con, and won a blind, cult-like following? “We’re f***ed,” Konnikova says, with a sigh. “He’s going to win a second term.” 

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Is More Always Better in Designing Workplace Wellness Programs?

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Components individually are related to better outcomes, but this relationship is weaker in the presence of other components and non-significant for incentives.

Trump says he misses life before he became US president

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

Mr Trump says he misses life before he was elected - and social media users couldn't agree more.

"I pictured a dude this whole time": why the internet assumes you're a man

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Women with gender neutral usernames are frequently mistaken for men online. What's behind it – and does it matter? 

Verity Burns often sells her old tech online. When she is done with her phones, headphones, or laptops, she will place them on eBay in the hopes of making some extra cash. As a 32-year-old technology journalist, Burns can knowledgeably answer any questions that potential buyers might have. Yet though she doesn’t often make mistakes, those messaging her frequently do.

“If I'm ever selling tech there and get a question about it, the buyer almost always assumes I'm male... addressing me as mate, geez, bruv,” she says. Last year, when a man came to collect a purchase from her home, he was taken aback by Burns’ appearance.  “He looked very confused when I opened the door,” she says. “He even said ‘Oh I thought you were a guy!’.”

“There are No Girls on the Internet” was one of the web’s first adages. During the Nineties, male gamers would often pose as women for both attention and assistance in Multi-User Dungeon games (MUDs). Nowadays, most internet users are aware that gender ratios online reflect those in real life, and the saying exists on as a meme, not a myth.

Yet although consciously most of us know that there are plenty of women online, subconsciously, something else seems to be at work.

“I'm always assumed [to be] male on Reddit,” says Rosie Jones, a 22-year-old sommelier. A Redditor for six years, Jones has found that others on the site automatically assume she is male, particularly on subreddits – forums dedicated to specific topics – for chefs.

In this, Jones is not alone. Reddit commenters are frequently assumed to be male on the site, so much so that the phrase “OP [original poster] is a she” has become a common correction for any mistakes. A site search for “OP is a she” reveals thousands of these comments – which is perhaps fair enough, considering Reddit was originally a male-dominated site. Yet according to Reddit’s own advertising kit, women now make up 47 per cent of the site.

So ubiquitous is the assumption that Reddit users are male that it happens even when they have the word “lady” or “sister” in their username – and when they clearly mention that they are women. When females take to the site to talk about their boyfriends or relationships with men, it is assumed they are simply gay men. Redditors themselves are aware of this problem. On a subreddit for DIY, one comment, with 141 upvotes, says: “I've been trying to catch and correct myself whenever I assume every Reddit poster is a male.”

There is no explicit harm in this behaviour. Commenters are rarely offended when others assume they are male, and as a Redditor, Jones herself assumes other users are men. “It doesn't really bother me,” she says. Nonetheless, this behaviour is symptomatic of a wider trend on the internet. When users don’t have profile pictures or usernames that identify them as female, they are often automatically assumed to be men. As one Redditor put it a few years ago: “On the internet, everyone is a male.”

“For years I have been on online forums with just random usernames and it's almost always assumed I am male,” says Samantha, a 23-year-old communications assistant who posts on music and politics sites. For work, Samantha uses “Sam” – not her full name – in her email address, and says she gets “better responses” when people assume she is a man.

“Pretty much every time I speak with people afterward, maybe in person or via phone, they go: ‘Oh, I didn't realise you were a woman!’,” she says. When she first switched from using “Samantha” to “Sam” while she worked in recruiting, she found her emails got a “significantly higher” response rate and she was taken more seriously. “However if I contacted them through telephone they would dismiss me (even if I had already spoke to them via email) before realising who I was and saying they were shocked I was a woman.”

Natasha Daniels is a 25-year-old fashion editor who has experienced similar problems. When applying for internships after university, she found herself frequently rejected on the grounds she didn’t have enough experience. When her aunt advised her to change her email from “natasha.daniels” to “ndaniels”, she immediately got two interviews.

“It really shocked me as to be honest it was my first dalliance with sexism in the workplace,” she says. “Before that I'd only worked at Topshop!”

Neither Natasha nor Samantha deliberately identified themselves as male – but relied on internet users’ automatic assumption that they were speaking to men. “I've never really dug into why,” says Samantha, questioning why people online frequently assume she is a man. One Redditor echoes this. “Ohh is OP a "she"?,” they write, after the news emerges. “I have no idea why, but I pictured a dude this whole time.”

This Redditor might not know which subconscious biases are at work in his mind, but experts do. Feminists and sociologists have long noted that men are the default in society. Cartoon characters are assumed to be male until eyelashes are added, animals are often referred to as “he” or “him”, products are marked out with qualifiers so that there is “deodorant” and “women’s deodorant”, and women are often referred to as “female” doctors or basketball players, rather than simply doctors or basketball players.

“In linguistics ‘markedness’ refers to the fact that words have a base meaning and then extra meaning added on with linguistic marking - a little bit of language stuck on,” explains Deborah Tannen, a professor linguistics and author of You're The Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships.

An essay by Tannen, “There is No Unmarked Woman” explains how women are always marked linguistically. “Verbs are present tense (visit) unless marked for past (visited). Nouns are singular (cat) unless marked for plural (cats).  And people are male (poet, actor) unless marked for female (poetess, actress)… The assumption that the unmarked form is male persists.”  

via thesocietypages.org

On the internet, women are similarly marked. We look for stereotypical clues like kisses or emoji use to determine whether someone is a woman. Without these, the assumption is automatically that the writer is male. 

Culturally and linguistically, we have therefore been trained to assume that things are male by default. As such, internet users cannot be blamed for inciting some terrible new sexist trend. Being mistaken for a man online is certainly not in the top 100 problems women face today, but the phenomenon is still worth scrutiny. It is an undercurrent of our patriarchal society, and one that no one should miss were it to go away. 

Yet being mistaken for a man can, sometimes, have its benefits. Shockingly, male eBay users make more money than female ones, and mistaken identity has arguably helped Samantha and Natasha in their careers. A gender-neutral username is also a great way to avoid sexual harassment online (not, of course, that the onus should ever be women to avoid being harassed).

Between the ages of 19 and 25, now 30-year-old François used to play as a female character in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Despite being French and therefore linguistically appearing male on the game’s chat feature (for example, a French man would write “je suis fatigue” whereas a woman would write “je suis fatiguée”), François was frequently mistaken for a woman. 

“They would be much kinder as long as they assumed I was a woman,” he says, explaining they would often help him with the game. “For some it was very clear that as soon as they realised I was a guy they'd stop interacting with me.” 

Yet there were also downsides. François was frequently “hit on” by other players who assumed he was a woman, and players who thought this were much more interested in learning about where he lived and how old he was. On eBay, not only can appearing as a man boost your sales, appearing as woman can also lead to unwanted sexual attention

The default male could arguably therefore help females attempting to avoid harassment online. Nonetheless, it is important to recognise and address the phenomenon, as it is the harrasers who need to change their behaviour, not women with feminine usernames or avatars. Many online are already trying to change or modify their behaviour. MaxpowerAU is a Redditor who, a few months ago, made a joke on the site which relied on him assuming the OP was male. Though he was aware he was being presumptous, he ultimately decided it was worth it to make the joke. Yet when the OP replied with “OP is a she”, he edited his post.

“I'm socially awkward generally and particularly uncomfortable in places I perceive as not for me,” he tells me over Reddit’s messaging service. “When I took my kid to a weekly toddler ‘Rhyme Time’ I was usually the only father in a sea of mothers. I'm disturbed by the idea that women feel like that a lot and (I imagine) especially online.”

As such, maxpowerAU thinks it is important to correct gender assumptions on Reddit, in order to make women feel more welcome. “I know when you're already feeling out of place, any tiny thing can feel like proof that you're not welcome,” he says. 

Getty/New Statesman

Not since the Thatcher years have so many Tory MPs been so motivated by self-interest

By Simon Heffer from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Assured of an election win, backbenchers are thinking either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. 

One hears despair from Labour not just about probable defeat, but from MPs who felt they had three years to improve the party’s fortunes, or to prepare for personal oblivion. In the Conservative Party, matters seem quite the opposite. Veterans of the 1983 election recall something similar: a campaign fought in the absolute certainty of winning. Theresa May talked of putting the interests of the country first when she engineered the poll, and one must believe she was sincere. However, for those expecting to be Tory MPs after 8 June there are other priorities. Theirs is not a fight for the national interest, because that for them is a foregone conclusion. It is about their self-interest: either advancing up the greasy pole, or mounting it for the first time. They contemplate years ahead in which to consolidate their position and, eventually, to shape the tone and direction of the party.

The luxury of such thoughts during a campaign comes only when victory is assured. In 1983 I worked for a cabinet minister and toured marginal seats with him. Several candidates we met – most of whom won – made it clear privately that however important it was to serve their constituents, and however urgent to save the country from the threats within what the late Gerald Kaufman later called “the longest suicide note in history”, there was another issue: securing their place in the Thatcher revolution. Certain they and their party would be elected in the aftermath of the Falklands War, they wanted their snout in the trough.

These are early days, but some conver­sations with those heading for the next House of Commons echo the sentiments of 1983. The contemporary suicide note has not appeared, but is keenly awaited. Tories profess to take less notice of opinion polls than they once did – and with good reason, given the events of 2015 and 2016 – but ­imagine their party governing with a huge majority, giving them a golden opportunity to advance themselves.

Labour promises to change the country; the Liberal Democrats promise to force a reconsideration of Brexit; Ukip ­promises to ban the burqa; but the Tories believe power is theirs without the need for elaborate promises, or putting any case other than that they are none of the above. Thus each man and woman can think more about what the probability of four or five further years in the Commons means to them. This may seem in poor taste, but that is human nature for you, and it was last seen in the Labour Party in about 2001.

Even though this cabinet has been in place only since last July, some Tory MPs feel it was never more than an interim arrangement, and that some of its incumbents have underperformed. They expect vacancies and chances for ministers of state to move up. Theresa May strove to make her team more diverse, so it is unfortunate that the two ministers most frequently named by fellow Tories as underachievers represent that diversity – Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor, who colleagues increasingly claim has lost the confidence of the judiciary and of the legal profession along with their own; and Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, whom a formerly sympathetic backbencher recently described to me as having been “a non-event” in his present job.

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, was lucky to survive his own stint as lord chancellor – a post that must surely revert to a qualified lawyer, with Dominic Grieve spoken of in that context, even though, like all ardent Remainers in the government, he would be expected to follow the Brexit line – and the knives are out for him again, mainly over Southern Rail but also HS2. David Gauke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and the little-known Ben Gummer, a Cabinet Office minister, are tipped for promotion with Grieve if vacancies arise: that all three are white men may, or may not, be a consideration.

Two other white men are also not held in high regard by colleagues but may be harder to move: Boris Johnson, whose conduct of the Foreign Office is living down to expectations, and Michael Fallon, whose imitation of the Vicar of Bray over Brexit – first he was for it, then he was against it, and now he is for it again – has not impressed his peers, though Mrs May considers him useful as a media performer. There is also the minor point that Fallon, the Defence Secretary, is viewed as a poor advocate for the armed forces and their needs at a time when the world can hardly be called a safe place.

The critical indicator of how far personal ambition now shapes the parliamentary Tory party is how many have “done a Fallon” – ministers, or aspirant ministers, who fervently followed David Cameron in advising of the apocalyptic results of Brexit, but who now support Theresa May (who is also, of course, a reformed Remainer). Yet, paradoxically, the trouble Daniel Hannan, an arch-Brexiteer and MEP, has had in trying to win selection to stand in Aldershot – thanks to a Central Office intervention – is said to be because the party wants no one with a “profile” on Europe to be added to the mix, in an apparent attempt to prevent adding fuel to the fire of intra-party dissent. This may appease a small hard core of pro-Remain MPs – such as Anna Soubry, who has sufficient talent to sit in the cabinet – who stick to their principles; but others are all Brexiteers now.

So if you seek an early flavour of the next Conservative administration, it is right before you: one powering on to Brexit, not only because that is what the country voted for, but because that is the orthodoxy those who wish to be ministers must devotedly follow. And though dissent will grow, few of talent wish to emulate Soubry, sitting out the years ahead as backbenchers while their intellectual and moral inferiors prosper.

Simon Heffer is a columnist for the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs

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The economic slowdown is another reason Theresa May called an early election

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The Prime Minister has gone to the country before the living standards squeeze becomes too strong.

The recession that the Treasury and others forecast would follow the EU referendum never came. But we now have the clearest evidence yet of an economic slowdown. In the first quarter of 2017, GDP grew by just 0.3 per cent, down from 0.7 per cent in the previous three months and the slowest rate since the beginning of 2016.

For individuals, growth is now almost non-existent. GDP per capita rose by 0.1 per cent, continuing the worst living standards recovery on record. As the Resolution Foundation noted, GDP per capita is just 1.7 per cent above pre-crisis levels, compared to 16.3 per cent after the '90s recession and 24.5 per cent following the '80s recession. Higher inflation (owing to the pound's depreciation) and stagnant pay are hindering Britain's main source of growth: consumption (which accounted for 100 per cent of per capita growth in 2016).

As I recently noted in my column, the economic slowdown was another reason for Theresa May to call an early general election. A renewed living standards squeeze has begun but it is too early for much political damage to result.

It was precisely to deny prime ministers the chance to call an election at the most favourable moment that many argued for the introduction of fixed-term parliaments. Labour had little choice but to constent (though some argue Jeremy Corbyn should have forced Theresa May to hold a vote of no confidence). But today's figures will be cited as evidence of why future prime ministers should not be allowed to repeat May's trick.

Getty Images.

Free Digital Learning Opportunities for Migrants and Refugees

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

This final report on MOOCs and free digital learning opportunities for migrants and refugees is a modest and explorative contribution to better understandingthe challenges and opportunities for developing digitally-enabled solutions to tackle educational access and learning possibilities for the recent influx of refugees and migrants in Europe.

Africa's top shots

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

A selection of the best photos from across Africa this week.

Trump and Emergent Strategy: The First 100 Days

By Ionut Popescu from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Tomorrow is the 100th day of the Trump presidency, and America’s foreign policy is in much better shape than most experts anticipated on Inauguration Day. After a rocky start, the administration appears to have embarked on a more promising and strategically sound course. This positive development is mostly owed to the “emergent strategy” model of ...

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Marvel Studios

Missing the Point on Iran’s Ballistic Missiles

By Behnam Ben Taleblu from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani told a defense exposition this month that his country would “not seek the permission of anyone” to build missiles, affirming “a need for vigilance” against perceived foreign aggression. Yet the Islamic Republic’s diverse missile arsenal has enabled it to engage in belligerence and subversion abroad for over three decades. That’s why ...

“All four of us vomited in the library”: Bobby Seagull on life as a University Challenge icon

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

In an age of attacking the elites, why have British audiences started making cult figures out of University Challenge contestants?

“BOBBY SEAGULL HAS REPLIED TO LOTS OF MY TWEETS!!!!!” cried a lovestruck fan on Twitter earlier this month, punctuated with three red hearts. It was the semi-final of University Challenge at the end of March, and two team captains who had become cult figures were going head-to-head.

One was Eric Monkman of Wolfson College, Cambridge, a bespectacled Canadian with a uniquely intense way of answering questions. His competitor was Bobby Seagull, the whimsically-named and endlessly jovial captain of Emmanuel College, also of Cambridge – “the happiest University Challenge contestant ever”, according to the BBC, and declared “The cult hero of University Challengeby The Times.


Emmanuel College University Challenge team. Bobby Seagull sits second from the right. Photo: BBC

Over the course of BBC 2’s ten-month tournament, these two competitors became unlikely icons, their geeky “bromance” (they’d been friends as students for years) gaining an excitable online following.

“Eric, you and Bobby are indubitably the loveliest, most team-oriented people ever to appear on #UniversityChallenge and we love you!” one tweeter breathed. “I’m sure you both have serious career ambitions but WE WANT TO SEE THE BUDDY MOVIE” demanded another.

And it looks like that wish could be fulfilled. Seagull has barely left our screens since he was defeated by his nemesis and chum in the semi-final. I meet him looking dazed but delighted in the bustling courtyard of BBC’s New Broadcasting House. It is the morning after the University Challenge final, during which the triumph of Oxford’s Balliol College team was overshadowed by an outpouring of love and lament for runners-up Seagull and Monkman.

Seagull is a smile in a suit. A compact figure and nattily dressed, he wears a grey blazer, pink shirt, white pink-striped tie, ocean blue chinos and brown leather shoes – fresh from doing a round of BBC morning shows.

He carries a Cambridge crest-emblazoned overnight bag almost as big as he is. He caught the 5.45am train this morning to London from Cambridge, where he teaches maths at a local state school. Remarkably youthful-looking at 33, he gets mistaken for a pupil in school if he doesn’t keep his facial hair – a groomed moustache and beard.

We sit down for a coffee, and he commands the whole café with his garrulous anecdotes. “I got a question in my first round horribly wrong, when they asked for a Dickens book and I ended up making up a book called Little Miss Dorrit,” he hoots. “There were tweets saying I should be taken out of Cambridge! In the last few years, we’ve seen Twitter definitely develop a relationship with contestants. Eric and I have taken it in good humour. We joke about ourselves. I think that’s endeared us to the public.”

Seagull’s personality – “hammy, chatty, gregarious”, in his words – and intellect now have him lined up for other quiz shows and potentially as a presenter on a new TV programme about maths.

“I grew up with gangs, violence, things that young children shouldn’t see”

Seagull started life on a council estate in East Ham, east London, which he describes as “rough, difficult” – a place with “gangs, violence, things that young children shouldn’t see” that was a 40-minute walk from the nearest shop. Born to immigrant parents who left Kerala in south India for London in the late Seventies, Seagull was the second of four brothers. “Two rooms, two bunkbeds”, is how describes his family home.

“This sounds like I’m playing the fiddle now,” he groans. “In my family we were quite lucky; we had a really strong family unit. But for a lot of people there, it wasn’t an easy path of growing up.”

Seagull’s father got a job as an IT consultant and his family eventually moved into their own home in East Ham. Seagull puts his grasp of general knowledge down to his parents, whose support of their sons’ education would often lead them to spending money meant for groceries on second-hand books.

“All of us vomited in the space of half an hour. The library was not happy”

Every Saturday, his father would take them to the local library and they would read books for four or five hours – treated with listening to the football scores if they behaved well (Seagull is a big West Ham fan).

“There was one amusing time when I think we had food poisoning. First, one of my siblings vomited in the library,” he giggles. “And then the next one five minutes later, the next one ten minutes later, so I think all four of us vomited in the space of half an hour. The library was not happy!”


Bobby Seagull in Cambridge. Photo: Lloyd Mann (University of Cambridge)

Still, Seagull had only ever watched a few minutes of University Challenge before he applied for his college team and got a place on the show. “Now, if I have kids at some stage, they are going to watch this show from the age of five, and they’re going to win it!” he cries. “I won’t tell them I was on it, I’ll just make them watch it casually and if they get something right, I’ll chuck them a biscuit – Pavlovian condition them to get the right answers. So maybe in 30 years there’ll be a Seagull lifting the trophy.”

When he was 15, Seagull found an advert for scholarships to Eton in a copy of The Times. It asked: “Are you are bright boy?” he recalls, while struggling to open the plastic pot of granola he’s having for breakfast. “I’m really bad at practical things,” he pleads. Eventually, I open it for him.

“People come up to me and say they don’t normally support Oxbridge; they support anyone else”

He left his London state school, where former Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw was headteacher, and started at Eton when he was 16. Just like everything else he’s done, he loved it. A contemporary of Prince Harry and Eddie Redmayne, Seagull was perhaps destined for such an unusual journey – after all, his namesake is Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, the eponymous character of Richard Bach’s pseudo-philosophical Seventies novella. His father loved the book, and gave two of his sons the surname.

“In this book, the seagulls eat, sleep, catch fish; a monotonous routine. Jonathan Livingstone thought there must be a greater purpose to life. And he tried to inspire others to fly,” Seagull beams. “The weird thing is that my life is following that path in terms of I think my passion is numbers and I want to encourage a love of education.”

So he decided to go into teaching, and is also about to begin studying for an education PhD at Cambridge. This was after a few years working in the city as a banker and then an accountant. He was a trader at Lehman Brothers when it collapsed in 2008; he saw trouble brewing in the firm when it began to stop stocking the stationery cupboard, and took action. He had £200 on his vending machine allowance and didn’t want it going to waste if the company went under, so he spent it all on chocolate bars just before the crash.

“We’re just sort of normal people, relatable. Maybe a bit eccentric”

“I think we’re still in a country where people do look at the liberal elite, the city, the top professional institutions, MPs, Oxbridge, and there’s a sort of us-against-them mentality,” he reflects, looking mildly less euphoric than usual. “People come up to me and say they don’t normally support Oxbridge on University Challenge; they support anyone else.

“But this year, because of me and my friend Eric, they actually think, ‘we really like the way you’re just sort of normal people, relatable’,” he says. “Maybe a bit eccentric, but likeable people who they would like to have a conversation with. That's given me a great sense of satisfaction. In the modern world, things are changing all the time. Society, Brexit, we’re constantly changing. But University Challenge gives us that familiarity.”

Lloyd Mann (University of Cambridge)

Should the UK get militarily involved in Syria?

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

There is a ceasefire, in name only, agreed by all parties, including Russia.  But it is not enforced 

The foreign secretary Boris Johnson remarked on Thursday that the "UK would find it very difficult to refuse a US request to strike Syrian regime targets in response to another use of WMD". Hopefully, is an indication, at last, in a change in British policy towards Syria. 

After six years of fighting, over 500,000 dead, four million refugees, 11 million internally displaced people, and most of the country raised to the ground, it is clear to most that our policy of acquiescence, along with many others, is not working. Had we intervened at the beginning the crisis, the situation could not possibly have been worse. 

Johnson's comments caused controversy. But in fact, too many MPs in Westminster seem inward-looking, inexperienced and unworldly. Their fear of repeating the mistakes of Iraq has paralysed their thoughts and actions. This I find most frustrating. There are WMD in Syria and Assad is prepared to use them and against his own people. Our inactivity has in no small measure fuelled the rise of Isis, which as we now know is a direct threat to those MPs in Westminster and the country as a whole. Turn the other cheek to both Isis and Assad, and we should expect it well and truly slapped, again and again.

It is right and proper, as the closest ally of the US and a member of the UN Security Council that we take our responsibilities to protect the innocent seriously, wherever they are in the world. The UK must reinforce the red line, and taboo of using WMD to the absolute degree. Some in Westminster would have our nuclear deterrent and military confined to the barracks, and would avoid confrontation at every opportunity, in the hope that the worlds’ despots, dictators and terrorist will ignore us. This naivety could lead to the terminal decline of the UK as a global honest broker, our marginalisation on the world stage and an easy target for those who would do us harm.

But it is not direct military action by the UK against Assad that will resolve the crisis in Syria. The Geneva Process, which even the Russians are a part of, provides the framework for a political and democratic solution. However, without UN military support it has virtually no hope of success.

The first and overriding requirement in Syria is a ceasefire. There is one, in name only, agreed by all parties, including Russia, in Astana earlier this year.  But it is not enforced and never will be without the UN monitoring it. Just this month alone, the regime and Russian jets have attacked and destroyed seven hospitals run by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) in Idlib Province.

The UN must police this ceasefire with monitors and peacekeepers. I hope Mr Johnson, who also previously offered British troops to this task, will now, after his comments on Thursday be good to his word. The second requirement for peace is Safe Zones. Millions of civilians are without the bare essentials in life and are besieged by the warring factions. UN military personnel are required to protect these people, and to enable the millions of tonnes of aid, which sits gathering dust in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to get to where it should be, and to support reconstruction of the shattered infrastructure.

With the bare essentials of a ceasefire and safe zones in place, monitored and protected by the UN, there is just a fighting chance that the Geneva Process can progress.  It is Russian President Vladimir Putin who holds all the cards, and I cannot believe that the combined influence of the other members of the UN Security Council, or at least the US, UK and France, that together vastly outcompete his deterrent, cannot persuade him to come to the negotiating table. This could mean relaxing sanctions against Russia and allowing its forces a naval and air base in the Mediterranean. If this is viewed as "humble pie", it might be worth eating.

So I for one welcome the foreign secretary’s comments. Israel has shown this week that it will strike targets at will in Assad’s heartland and against his Allies with impunity, to protect its people. Russia, Syria and Iran do not lift a finger or comment in the face of these attacks, knowing that Israel has no qualms at using all its military capabilities to protect itself. 

Sometimes you just have to use force when all other options are exhausted. It is now time for the UN to use its collective military capability to force the peace in Syria. I hope the UK is in the vanguard of this battle.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE is a chemical weapons expert who has visited Syria many times during the war. He is the director of Doctors Under Fire and an adviser to UOSSM.

Getty

North Korea uses live fire exercise to display military might

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

Footage broadcast in North Korea shows leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a military exercise on 25 April.

Theresa May knows she's talking nonsense - here's why she's doing it

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

The Prime Minister's argument increases the sense that this is a time to "lend" - in her words - the Tories your vote.

Good morning.  Angela Merkel and Theresa May are more similar politicians than people think, and that holds true for Brexit too. The German Chancellor gave a speech yesterday, and the message: Brexit means Brexit.

Of course, the emphasis is slightly different. When May says it, it's about reassuring the Brexit elite in SW1 that she isn't going to backslide, and anxious Remainers and soft Brexiteers in the country that it will work out okay in the end.

When Merkel says it, she's setting out what the EU wants and the reality of third country status outside the European Union.  She's also, as with May, tilting to her own party and public opinion in Germany, which thinks that the UK was an awkward partner in the EU and is being even more awkward in the manner of its leaving.

It's a measure of how poor the debate both during the referendum and its aftermath is that Merkel's bland statement of reality - "A third-party state - and that's what Britain will be - can't and won't be able to have the same rights, let alone a better position than a member of the European Union" - feels newsworthy.

In the short term, all this helps Theresa May. Her response - delivered to a carefully-selected audience of Leeds factory workers, the better to avoid awkward questions - that the EU is "ganging up" on Britain is ludicrous if you think about it. A bloc of nations acting in their own interest against their smaller partners - colour me surprised!

But in terms of what May wants out of this election - a massive majority that gives her carte blanche to implement her agenda and puts Labour out of contention for at least a decade - it's a great message. It increases the sense that this is a time to "lend" - in May's words - the Tories your vote. You may be unhappy about the referendum result, you may usually vote Labour - but on this occasion, what's needed is a one-off Tory vote to make Brexit a success.

May's message is silly if you pay any attention to how the EU works or indeed to the internal politics of the EU27. That doesn't mean it won't be effective.

Getty Images.

Sheryl Sandberg's Advice for Grieving

By Rebecca J. Rosen from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Sheryl Sandberg’s new book is not an easy read. Well, in a sense, it is: The pages fly by. But the book is tough, full of the raw, painful emotions that followed the sudden loss of her husband Dave Goldberg when he was just 47 years old. What followed was, for Sandberg, a process of figuring out what life could look like when it wasn’t at all the life she had planned.

The book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, is somewhat framed as advice for people who are grieving. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and the author of Lean In, recommends avoiding what the psychologist Martin Seligman termed the “three P’s”—personalization (“this was my fault”), pervasiveness (“this affects everything”), and permanence (“nothing will ever be the same again”)—and finding support in community.

But it’s also a book for the friends and families of the bereaved—which is to say, nearly everyone—people who may not know what to say or do in the wake of a tragedy. “I got it all wrong before,” Sandberg told me, referring to her earlier efforts to comfort those who were grieving. “I used to say, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ I used to say, ‘How are you?,’ or not say anything. Every mistake that someone else made with me, I’ve made.”

I sat down with Sandberg and her co-author (and friend) Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, at The Atlantic’s offices in Washington, D.C., to talk about death, grieving, and resilience. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.


Rebecca J. Rosen: This is a book about loss and grieving, the hardest times we face. But it’s also a deeply optimistic book, framed around the question, what’s next? How do you come to that forward-looking optimism after suffering a terrible loss?

Sheryl Sandberg: Well, I didn’t come to it naturally, and I still don’t come to it every day. It’s work. It’s work. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Joy is a discipline.” I thought I would feel the way I felt in the beginning forever. Every minute. I wrote in my 30-day Facebook post that I would never feel another moment of pure joy again.

Adam Grant: I hated that line.

Sandberg: He argued with me—

Grant: Take it out!

Sandberg: But I was like, nope, this is true; I’m publishing it. And, look, I don’t come to optimism every day. There are lots of hard days. Expected ones, like my anniversary last week, and unexpected ones. But I have to move forward.

Everyone asks, “How do you do it?” I’ve got two kids. I have to get out of bed. They have to go to school, and I want to go to work, because I still love my job. I just met another woman who’s an artist and a widow, just like me—well, I’m not an artist, but I’m a widow. And someone asked her how she kept doing her work, and she said, “Because the rest of the parts of me didn’t die.” She said, “I’m a widow, but I’m still a mother, and I’m still an artist.”

Grant: One of the things I learned from Sheryl is that we really become resilient for other people, not for ourselves. I think the moment she really started to see the possibilities for hope and joy was when she said, “Look, if I don’t find a way to move forward, then my kids are going to have a harder time recovering.”

Sandberg: Adam kept saying that to me. He kept telling me, “If you don’t stop apologizing, and personalizing this, your kids can’t recover. If you can’t find moments of joy and let yourself be happy, your kids can’t be happy.”

Rosen: You write about post- and pre-traumatic growth, ideas that are going to be new for a lot of readers. Can you talk about what they mean?

Grant: When psychologists started studying resilience, they thought there were two paths. One was to be broken by tragedy or hardship, to walk away with post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating depression, and severe anxiety, and the other was to try and bounce back and return to the state you were at before the event.

They were really surprised to discover that many people end up with a third response, which is not just bouncing back but bouncing forward, and that’s about emerging with some positive change from a negative event. That’s not to say that the grief or sadness goes away, or that anyone is happy that it occurred. But alongside those negative emotions often come improvements in people’s lives, where they’re able to say, “I’m stronger. I lived through that, I can live through anything. I’m more grateful,” like Sheryl has talked about. “I have new relationships, or my relationships are deeper because people have helped me in ways that I never thought possible, and I’ve become closer to them because of that.”

For a lot of people, post-traumatic growth is about a stronger sense of meaning in life—having a purpose, which is often about helping people in the way that you suffered, which not only gives your life meaning but gives your suffering meaning.

When we talk about pre-traumatic growth, for us, that means, can you experience all those gains without the tragedy? Can you bring more gratitude into your life, more meaning into your life, a greater sense of perspective and personal strength, without having had to suffer? And what Sheryl’s really trying to figure out and help other people figure out is that it’s possible to learn these lessons without having someone that you love die.

Sandberg: Post-traumatic growth doesn’t mean that it’s overall more positive. I would trade all the growth to have Dave back. But I’m closer with my parents than I was. I’m closer with my closest friends than I was. I have more appreciation. I have more perspective.

My son’s team lost the basketball playoffs and a lot of the other boys were crying. I asked him, “Are you okay?,” and he said, “Mom, it’s sixth-grade basketball.” I wouldn’t wish that perspective on anyone. But actually having perspective on what’s important and what’s not is good.

Appreciation: I am having this conversation with you, and I am not wanting to lie on the floor. Two years ago, I would have been lying on the floor. I am appreciating that I’m here, that I live today. I remember the day that I lived longer than Dave did, which happened in March. I appreciate, my God, I’m alive; fingers crossed, I’m going to turn 48 in August and Dave never did.

I have appreciation and those things are deep. And there is pre-traumatic growth too—the growth without the trauma. I’ve said to people, you know those jokes we make about growing old? Stop making those jokes. Growing old is such a gift. What if people saw that as a gift? People can grow before the trauma and maybe in preparation for the trauma (but hopefully not).

Rosen: In your book you draw on social-science research, but you also draw from a variety of religious traditions. I’m wondering if you could talk a little about the different values you've found in these two different sources of comfort.

Sandberg: I mean, when you’re this down, you just look for comfort everywhere—as much as possible, as much wisdom and comfort as you can get. And I think, like everyone, I drew on everything I could find. And then there were moments where I couldn’t draw on anything at all, and I just had to lean into the suck and let it happen. But Judaism ... Judaism helped me know when to bury him and where to bury him and what prayers to say, and there is something comforting in that, and it was the same prayer that people have said over people who have died for thousands of years.

And Buddhism, which universalizes—I shouldn’t speak on Buddhism, I’m not an expert—but Buddhism makes us feel like our suffering is not unique. And social science, which told me that my kids and I needed to establish a new family unit. And other people’s experience, like Carole Geithner, a close friend and social worker, who told me that my kids were going to cycle in and out of  grief, and so I shouldn’t be shocked if they were hysterical on the floor one minute and playing the next—something that, had no one told me, I would have been like, “What’s going on here?,” and been so worried about them.

Grant: We’ve gotten a lot of emails from rabbis and reverends and monks, even—occasionally, they don’t send many emails—religious leaders from all different traditions. They’ve read what Sheryl wrote about the three P’s and said, “Oh, we can trace this back to ...,” and they give us a religious text that makes the same point. I think the most meaningful lessons were the ones that are reinforced by both ancient religion and social science.

Rosen: Both this book and Lean In are fundamentally intended to help people—help them move up at work or help them deal with the loss of a loved one. Is there a thread here for you?

Sandberg: I know that with Lean In, what I desperately wanted was a more equal world, and I still want it. I mean, I still believe so deeply that five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 20 percent, 21 percent of Congress and 11 countries is not enough. And I really believe that women can come together, support each other, and we can do a good job, maybe a better job, in some of those leadership circles.

With this—look, Dave was really giving. But now he’s not here to do good. But I think, if something good can happen in his name, I’m keeping Dave’s memory alive a little bit—extending it.

Without doing something like this, it’s just death and a father who died before his children graduated from elementary school. If I try to do something with it—and look, we have over 4,000 people in Option B groups. A mother whose son died by suicide three years ago got on the site earlier this week, and was in communication with someone who she thinks she might have helped. She said it’s the first positive thing to have come from her son’s death. And that makes a huge difference for people. It is so isolating. Nobody knows what to say. Kicking those elephants out of the room, bringing people together, is just huge.

Five things

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

Iran is holding elections for its next president on 19 May - here are five reasons to be interested.

EU prepares for post-Brexit united Ireland membership

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Summit endorsement would raise fears over fragmentation of UK

Voting Rights on Trial on the Bayou

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Terrebonne Parish is probably what people envision when they think about rural Louisiana. It’s chock-full of the swamps, fan boats, gators, and cypress trees that translate to postcards and movie backdrops. People speak Cajun French in public, and shrimpers and fishermen still make their living across the bayous.

But peek through the curtains of Spanish moss, and you might get a look at some of the less idyllic throwbacks to history. While higher-profile cases in Texas, North Carolina, and Wisconsin dominate the news and the nation’s highest courts, the people of Terrebonne Parish are engaged in a similar struggle for voting rights, one that here stretches all the way back to the Voting Rights Act, and could have major implications as the entire country reckons with the meaning of that legislation today.

Through a modern lens, the 1965 passage of the VRA is often erroneously seen as a singular, decisive victory in the struggle for black suffrage. Reports from the time paint a different picture: of a long guerrilla war aimed at limiting the act’s enforcement and effectiveness that never quite ended. Some of the most brazen and sinister attempts by white voters to suppress black ballots came in small rural communities—just like those in Terrebonne Parish. While today courts chiefly focus on the gerrymandering and voter ID laws that are the most effective statewide attempts at minimizing minority votes, those localized movements relied more on methods that diluted the voting power of individual black neighborhoods and their residents’ ability to govern themselves.

Chief among these was the move to at-large voting, in which all of the members of a municipality or county vote for all of a governing body or judiciary. Under this system, a majority-white electorate would water down the impact of then-newly gained black votes. This contrasts with district-based voting, whereby highly segregated communities of black voters—packed into districts carved out of the larger area—at least had a chance to elect some officials that they actually wanted to represent them.

In places with black minorities, at-large voting is an especially effective way to circumvent the VRA’s requirements that electoral districts maintain some sort of geographic and demographic coherence. That’s because the very nature of Jim Crow tended to pack black communities into dense natural districts; they became the basis for post-VRA voting districts, which have since provided most of the country’s elected black officials in places that use district-based voting. At-large voting neatly sidestepped that consequence. For places where black people were a majority, white county and state officials sometimes even tried to merge majority-black counties with majority-white counties to dilute black majorities, then installed at-large systems.

A 1968 report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights details the rise of at-large voting in the South. “Where Negroes are heavily concentrated in particular election districts, their votes can be diluted effectively by converting to at-large elections, in which their votes are outweighed by white votes in adjoining districts,” the commissioners wrote. In the interim between the VRA’s passage and the 1969 Supreme Court ruling in Allen v. State Bd. of Elections—which found the legislation’s famous “preclearance” requirement for Southern election laws held for even minor and local election measures—Southern white conservatives assaulted black voting power with a wave of shifts to at-large voting at multiple levels. The report mentions Mississippi and Alabama as the worst perpetrators, but that same year Louisiana passed a law allowing individual parishes to choose to use at-large voting, which had previously been banned. Also that year, Louisiana created the 32nd judicial district in the state to cover Terrebonne, and the parish chose to employ at-large elections.

“This method of election was put in place three years after the Voting Rights Act was meant to bring black people and people of color into the electorate,” said Leah Aden, a senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is currently representing the local NAACP chapter in a challenge to the parish’s at-large system in federal court. Although at-large voting largely withered in the South—under past scrutiny from the Department of Justice and the once-increasing strength of the VRA after numerous court interpretations and reauthorizations—it managed to slip through the cracks of time in Terrebonne Parish. Despite maintaining a 20 percent—and rising—share of black voters, the area has never elected a black judge in a contested race. Against DOJ warnings, as well as a 1996 report from the Louisiana Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts recommending a cessation of at-large voting statewide to ensure racial fairness, Terrebonne Parish persisted.

In the half-century since the parish moved to an at-large system, only one black judge, Juan Pickett, has ever been elected to the 32nd District Court. That he ran unopposed has been taken by state officials as proof of a black candidate’s ability to win elections. Yet, the previous judge in that seat, Timothy Ellender, stepped down after years of incidents: He wore blackface and prison shackles to a Halloween party—the state Supreme Court sent him afterward to racial-sensitivity training—and engaged in behavior so bizarre as to constitute a sustained legal miscarriage of justice. Pickett’s success, then, really seems to highlight the almost absurd sequence of events that had to take place for just one black victory.

To be sure, Louisiana state officials characterize the NAACP lawsuit, which LDF lawyers are arguing in court this week, as a weak case at best. They cite that the black minority is neither large nor compact enough to constitute an aggrieved voting block as described in VRA requirements. But the NAACP and LDF argue that their objections are undermined by the timing of the at-large shift, as well as the fact that other parish-wide voter schemes passed at the same time—like a 1969 bond vote restricted to property owners—have been considered unconstitutional by the nation’s highest courts. According to testimony in the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP, et al. v. Edwards, et al. trial this week from historian Allan J. Lichtman, black Terrebonne Parish residents also successfully sued to stop at-large school-district elections in the 1970s. He said the DOJ has since found that coherent black districts can be made in the parish, despite the state rejecting attempts to do so. If that’s validated by the court on Friday, it could trigger an at-large voting ban.

The implications for this case go beyond the judicial ramifications of having a representative elected court. The fact of the matter is that in the South, white voters simply don’t vote for candidates favored by black voters, and in places with a majority of white voters, like Terrebonne Parish, perhaps the easiest way to lose an election is to be endorsed by black voters. This sort of “racially polarized voting” is one of the core triggers and purposes of the VRA, and it’s getting worse 52 years out from its passage, not better. While it seems a minor brushfire over a district court, the decision in the NAACP lawsuit is yet another test of the ability of the courts to enforce the spirit of the VRA.

That test matters, especially as at-large voting has been tried in other areas after 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court ruling rendered preclearance essentially moot. Just after the decision, conservatives in Beaumont, Texas, finalized implementation of an at-large voting system for its school board after the ouster of four black members. Also in 2013, the city of Pasadena, Texas, redistricted its eight city-council districts into six districts and two at-large seats, a move that not only diluted the voting power of Latino voters by enlarging districts, but also did so by the addition of at-large seats. That move was found discriminatory by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas earlier this year.

“There’s always a fear post-Shelby that if you don’t have [preclearance] in place, majority-white voters and elected officials will revert to at-large voting,” Aden told me. There hasn’t been a sea change yet, but concerned parties view this lawsuit and others as test cases, both for how racially polarized voting influences court decisions after the Shelby County ruling seemed to make it less of a priority, and for the famed “Gingles test,” which provides for the legally mandated creation of majority-minority districts if said racially polarized voting exists.

The test in Terrebonne Parish is among other higher-profile voting-rights cases under way since Shelby County opened its legal can of worms—cases ranging from racial and political gerrymandering to voter ID laws. That people in the parish have been building this case for almost 30 years should be a reminder that voting rights and election laws birthed by the legacy of a stubborn Jim Crow were not yet erased when Chief Justice John Roberts famously opined that “our country has changed” in the Court’s 2013 decision. In some places and cases, it has changed, but in others people are quite literally still fighting the battles of years past.

Macron meets ‘unhappy’ France to improve image

From Europe News. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Presidential frontrunner stumbles in run-off battle with Marine Le Pen

Expats, exports, security

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

What are the political priorities in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Warsaw?

The Donald Trump Cabinet Tracker

By Russell Berman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Updated on April 27, 2017 at 6:40 p.m. ET

President Trump’s Cabinet is finally full.

The Senate on Thursday evening confirmed Alexander Acosta to be labor secretary on a broadly bipartisan vote, installing the president’s last Cabinet secretary just shy of his 100th day in office. The vote was 60-38, as most Democrats opposed Acosta’s nomination to no avail.

Acosta, a former federal prosecutor who led the Justice Department’s civil-rights division in the George W. Bush administration, was Trump’s second choice for labor secretary. His original pick was Andrew Puzder, the restaurant executive who withdrew his nomination in February after Republicans raised concerns over allegations that he abused his ex-wife and the risqué commercials he approved as CEO of the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Acosta faced comparatively little controversy, although Democrats raised objections about his conservative views and his ties to the U.S. attorney scandal during the Bush administration.

In the end, Puzder was the only senior Cabinet pick who Trump could not get the Republican-controlled Senate to confirm, although several lower-level nominees have backed out because of complications in disentangling their financial conflicts of interest. Democrats succeeded in dragging out the confirmation process for many of Trump’s initial choices for weeks, but because of a rules change they engineered in 2013 to eliminate the filibuster for most presidential nominations, they did not have the votes to block any of the president’s picks on their own.

While Trump is far behind his recent predecessors in filling senior posts in the government overall, he now has his full Cabinet in place at about the same time former President Barack Obama did in 2009. While the bulk of Obama’s choices won confirmation on or shortly after his inauguration, his first secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebellius, did not start her job until his 99th day in office because of the withdrawal of former Senator Tom Daschle over tax issues.

The Senate hasn’t formally rejected a Cabinet pick since it voted down former President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of John Tower for defense secretary in 1989. But no new president has gotten all of their nominees confirmed in the last 30 years; those that become enmeshed in controversy or partisan brinkmanship (it’s often both) usually withdraw before a vote. Trump lost only Puzder.


Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Department of State

Trump’s pick: Rex Tillerson

Background: He’s an oil executive. Tillerson has been the CEO of Exxon Mobil for the last decade after working his way up the ranks since 1975. It’s the only company Tillerson has ever known; the Texas native started at Exxon after graduating from college. He’s also an Eagle Scout who served as a past president of the Boy Scouts of America.

Government experience: None.

Why Trump likes him: He’s a big-time businessman who makes big deals—including with the same foreign governments with whom he’ll have to engage as secretary of state. “The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments,” Trump tweeted.

Liabilities: Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin will be the biggest potential obstacle to his confirmation by the Senate. In 2012, Putin awarded him the “Order of Friendship”—a high honor in the Kremlin, but one that will not sit well with Russia hawks in Congress.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 56 to 43 on February 1.


Mike Segar / Reuters

Department of the Treasury

Trump’s pick: Steven Mnuchin

Background: He’s a banker. Specifically, Mnuchin is a former senior executive at Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund manager who bought the failed mortgage lender IndyMac from the government in 2009. He spun it off into OneWest and sold it for a huge profit five years later. Mnuchin is also a Hollywood producer whose credits include Avatar, American Sniper, and the X-Men movies.

Government experience: None.

Why Trump likes him: Spot the pattern yet? He’s a successful businessman. But perhaps equally as important, Mnuchin was a relatively early convert to the Trump cause and joined the campaign as national finance chairman back in April, just as the Republican was shifting from relying on his own funds to setting up a more traditional fundraising apparatus. Mnuchin made clear early on he wanted the Treasury job, and Trump rewarded him.

Liabilities: Goldman Sachs and foreclosures. Economic populists will see Mnuchin’s nomination by a candidate who ran against Wall Street and the “rigged” system as the ultimate betrayal. If Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for the speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, how can he turn around and pick a man who got rich there for treasury secretary? Moreover, while Trump hailed Mnuchin for his business savvy in making a boatload off IndyMac at the depth of the Great Recession, Democrats will savage him for the foreclosures that resulted and highlight stories like that of an 89-year-old widow who blamed hounding by the bank for her husband’s death.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 53 to 47 on February 13.


Alex Brandon / AP

Department of Defense

Trump’s pick: General James Mattis

Background: Mattis is a four-star Marine Corps general who led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. He commanded forces in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mattis also worked with General David Petraeus to produce the field manual on battling counterinsurgents in Iraq.

Government experience: Forty-four years in the military, though none in civilian posts.

Why Trump likes him: For a guy who once said he probably knows “more about ISIS than the generals do,” he certainly likes hiring them for top positions. Mattis is known as a straight-shooter and a voracious reader, and Trump has gushed that he is “the closest thing to George Patton that we have.” Like Trump, Mattis is someone whose blunt talk occasionally crashes through the line of political correctness, and he has criticized the Obama administration stance toward Iran and its strategy across the Middle East. Trump seems to value his opinion: He told The New York Times that he was “impressed” when Mattis pointedly told him that torture does not work, though it did not change the president-elect’s support for the practice. Trump also seems fond of his nickname, Mad Dog.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 98 to 1 on January 20.


Mike Segar / Reuters

Department of Justice

Trump’s pick: Senator Jeff Sessions

Background: Sessions has represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, building up a record as a staunch critic of illegal immigration and expanded legal immigration. He’s been a conservative all around, opposing the Obama administration at nearly every turn. Before his election to the Senate, Sessions served as a federal prosecutor and then Alabama attorney general. He might have had a lifetime appointment to the federal bench had the Senate not rejected his nomination in 1987 over allegations that he made racist comments and praised the KKK while criticizing the NAACP and the ACLU.

Government experience: Extensive. He served in the U.S. Senate since 1997 and held public office in Alabama beginning in 1981.

Why Trump likes him: Loyalty. In February, Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy, and he has been a surrogate and close adviser ever since. Sessions’s top aides are working in the Trump transition and at least one, policy adviser Stephen Miller, might snag a senior post in the West Wing. Sessions has made his name opposing comprehensive immigration reform and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and Trump adopted similar positions that helped vault him to the top of the GOP primary field.

Liabilities: The same comments that derailed Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s are likely to be front-and-center at his confirmation hearings, as will the staunchly conservative record he has amassed in the Senate. In his 1986 hearing before the Senate, Adam Serwer wrote for The Atlantic, “witnesses testified that Sessions referred to a black attorney as ‘boy,’ described the Voting Rights Act as ‘intrusive,’ attacked the NAACP and ACLU as ‘un-American’ for ‘forcing civil rights down the throats of people,’ joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was ok until he found out they smoked marijuana, and referred to a white attorney who took on voting-rights cases as a  ‘traitor to his race.’” Sessions will face scrutiny over how he intends to enforce civil- and voting-rights laws as attorney general.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 52-47 on February 8.


Gary Cameron / Reuters

Department of Homeland Security

Trump’s pick: Retired General John Kelly

Background: The military. Like Mattis, Kelly is a veteran of more than 40 years in the Marine Corps, having served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command for the final three ending in January. The jurisdiction included South and Central America, as well as the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kelly also has the sad distinction of being the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.

Government experience: Four decades in the military, including assignments as a liaison to Congress.

Why Trump likes him: Aside from being a general, Kelly’s deep knowledge of border security and the challenges posed by illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America are likely the reason Trump selected him. He has warned about the danger of terrorists using known drug smuggling routes to send operatives to the United States through Mexico, which was a theme for Trump on the campaign trail.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 88 to 11 on January 20.


Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Department of Health and Human Services

Trump’s pick: Representative Tom Price

Background: The deeply conservative, six-term Georgia congressman is chairman of the House Budget Committee, a leading critic of the Affordable Care Act, and an architect of Republican proposals to replace the health law. Before entering politics in the 1990s, Price was an orthopedist for 20 years in Atlanta.

Government experience: Twelve years in Congress and another eight in the Georgia state Senate before that.

Why Trump likes him: The two men don’t have much of a personal history, but Price is a close ally both of Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan from their years together as conservatives in Congress. Price will be instrumental in working with Republicans on Capitol Hill to devise and pass a replacement for Obamacare. In the meantime, Price’s experience in federal health policy could allow him to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act from the inside at HHS.

Liabilities: Medicare, Medicare, Medicare. The biggest obstacle to Price’s confirmation is not his fervent opposition to Obamacare but his support for Ryan’s longstanding desire to convert Medicare into a voucher program. Democrats will do their best to make his confirmation hearings a referendum on this plan, particularly since Ryan has said he wants to try to pass it at some point during Trump’s first term.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a party-line vote of 52-47 on February 10.


Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Trump’s pick: Dr. Ben Carson

Background: The conservative former Trump rival for the Republican presidential nomination has no formal experience in housing policy. He’s a retired neurosurgeon renowned for pioneering a procedure to separate conjoined twins. But what Carson would bring to HUD is the personal experience of having grown up poor in Detroit. He has written and spoken extensively about his upbringing, saying that his hard work and passion for reading, along with the firm encouragement of his single mother, helped him to escape the poverty of the inner city.

Government experience: None.

Why Trump likes him: Again, loyalty. Carson endorsed Trump after he dropped out of the presidential race, and though he wasn’t his most effective surrogate, he stayed with him through the ups and downs of the general election. Trump lambasted him during the primary, mocking his childhood struggle with what Trump described as “a pathological temper.” The two have long since patched things up, however. Carson was pegged for a Cabinet post early on, but it figured to be the Department of Health and Human Services, given his deep experience in medicine. Trump and Carson do appear to share an up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy toward combatting poverty, where government programs play a smaller role than they do now.

Liabilities: Experience, or lack thereof. Carson’s most formidable challenge may be explaining his own assessment of his qualifications to lead a Cabinet department, as explained by his spokesman, Armstrong Williams, to The Hill shortly after the election: “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 58-41 on March 2.


Mike Segar / Reuters

Department of Energy

Trump’s pick: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry

Background: Perry served three-and-a-half terms as the governor of Texas, succeeding George W. Bush after he became president. He then ran for president twice, failing to win the Republican nomination in 2012 and then again in 2016. His experience in energy-rich Texas would, on the surface, seem to make him a natural fit, but the Energy Department is actually more of a national security agency that’s responsible for designing and protecting the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. The last two energy secretaries were award-winning scientists.

Government experience: Three-and-a-half terms as governor of Texas, a short stint as lieutenant governor, and eight years as Texas agriculture commissioner.

Why Trump likes him: Perry is another example of a Republican who fought bitterly with Trump only to make amends. Early in the 2016 race, Perry was actually more confrontational with Trump than any other Republican. He gave an entire speech devoted to attacking him in July 2015, during which he said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism.” But Perry was out of the race a few months later, and he came around to Trump once he secured the nomination and campaigned for his election.

Liabilities: “Oops.” As Democrats will undoubtedly remind the public to no end, the Energy Department was the Cabinet post that Perry infamously forgot he wanted to eliminate during a Republican primary debate in 2011. The mocking, however, will quickly turn serious as senators force Perry to explain how he plans to lead a department that he doesn’t believe should exist. As with a few other Trump nominees, expect to hear the words “fox in the henhouse” more than a few times.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 62-37 vote on March 2.


Alan Diaz / AP

Department of Labor

Trump’s pick: Alexander Acosta

Background: Acosta is a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, having served as head of the Justice Department’s civil-rights division and later as a U.S. attorney in Florida. He also served for a year as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, and for the last eight years as dean of Florida International University’s law school.

Government experience: Extensive. Acosta served in the federal government for nearly the entire George W. Bush administration in a variety of roles.

Why Trump likes him: Acosta has a sterling academic and legal pedigree that Trump mentioned, having graduated from Harvard and clerked for future Justice Samuel Alito when he served on a federal appellate court. Trump reportedly also wanted a Hispanic in his Cabinet, and while that may have not been an overriding factor, Acosta’s nomination does check that box. Finally, as Trump noted, Acosta has already won Senate confirmation three times, and after the failure of his first labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, the president needed someone who could get the job.

Liabilities: Democrats may ask about Acosta’s time in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which overlapped with the scandal over the politicization of the hiring of U.S. attorneys. As David Graham wrote, Acosta’s deputy was Bradley Schlozman, who was faulted by an inspector general’s report for inappropriately considering politics and ideology when screening federal prosecutors. But Acosta was not formally rebuked, and that decade-old controversy may not carry as much weight as it once did.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 60-38.

Previous nominee: Andrew Puzder, who withdrew on February 15


Lehtikuva Lehtikuva / Reuters

Department of Transportation

Trump’s pick: Elaine Chao

Background: As labor secretary for the full two terms of the George W. Bush administration, Chao brings more civilian experience in the federal government than anyone else in Trump’s Cabinet. Before that, she directed the Peace Corps and led United Way. During the first Bush administration, Chao also served as a deputy secretary in the department she is poised to lead.

Government experience: Extensive: see above.

Why Trump likes her: While Trump surely appreciated Chao’s deep experience in government and Washington, there is probably another factor in his decision to nominate her for transportation secretary: Chao is married to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a man who will hold wide sway over whether Trump’s agenda makes it into law. In particular, she’ll be a key player in Trump’s push for an expensive infrastructure package that McConnell and his conservative allies are cool to.

Liabilities: Virtually none. Given her government experience and obvious qualifications for the post, Chao might be the least controversial of any of Trump’s choices so far. Her selection even won praise from Vice President Joe Biden.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 93 to 6 on January 31.


Andrew Harnik / AP

Department of Education

Trump’s pick: Betsy DeVos

Background: DeVos is a longtime philanthropist and Republican donor and the former chairwoman of the state party in Michigan. She’s been a major advocate for education reform centered on expanding charter schools and private-school vouchers. She led the advocacy group, American Federation for Children, that pushes for increased school choice for parents. The New York Times reported on her successful effort to kill legislation in Detroit that would have imposed tougher accountability standards on charter schools.

Government experience: None.

Why Trump likes her: Trump has shown that he favors plucking people from the private sector who will come in and shake up a government agency, and DeVos fits that bill. She has strong support among Republican school reformers, especially those who favor both expanding charter schools and vouchers. (Democrats favor the former but not the latter.) She is further to the right on education than two other women Trump interviewed: Eva Moskowitz, a charter school leader in New York, and Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools.

Liabilities: Teacher unions will aggressively oppose DeVos over her support for unfettered and largely unregulated expansion of charter schools and vouchers. That likely won’t matter much to Republicans, but it will hurt her chances of winning broad bipartisan support. Conservatives who favor reduced federal power over education will question her previous support for Common Core standards and her affiliation with organizations that have championed Common Core. Anticipating that issue, DeVos has said that while she supports “high standards and strong accountability” for schools, Common Core “got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 51-50 vote on February 7, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.


Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Department of the Interior

Trump’s pick: Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana

Background: Zinke is a Republican member of the House who was just reelected to his second term in November. He had been expected to run for the Senate in 2018, but at least for now, he’s headed for Trump’s Cabinet. Zinke served for more than 20 years in the Navy Seals before entering politics, earning numerous medals. In Congress, he has opposed the sale of federal lands but supported mining and drilling on them.

Government experience: Two decades in the military and two years in Congress.

Why Trump likes him: Trump was, not surprisingly, impressed with Zinke’s military background, and the congressman reportedly impressed Trump’s son Donald Jr., an avid sportsman who was influenced by the recommendation of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Liabilities: Environmentalists immediately denounced the Zinke nomination, citing his support for mining and drilling and his skepticism about climate change. And a recent report in The Intercept alleged that he committed “travel fraud” while serving in the Navy special-forces unit SEAL Team 6. But there were no other immediate obstacles to his confirmation.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 68-31 vote on March 1.


Albin Lohr-Jones / AP

Department of Commerce

Trump’s pick: Wilbur Ross

Background: Another billionaire, Ross is the chairman of a private equity firm that he founded and later sold. For 25 years, he led Rothschild Inc., where he made a reputation as a turnaround specialist who bought up and restructured steel, textile, and mining companies, among other industries.

Government experience: None.

Why Trump likes him: The two businessmen go back many years together and share a critical view of U.S. trade policy in the last two decades. Ross, who specialized in turning around manufacturing firms, served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign. Ross, the president-elect said in nominating him, “is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed. Most importantly, he is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met, and that comes from me, the author of The Art of the Deal.”

Liabilities: Yes, Ross may have turned around companies, but at what cost to workers? He will get the Mitt Romney treatment from Democrats, who are portraying him as an out-of-touch plutocrat who outsourced jobs and slashed benefits at the companies he restructured. He’ll also face questions over the 2006 explosion at a mine run by one of his companies, which killed 12 workers.

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 72-27 on February 27.


Mike Segar / Reuters

Department of Agriculture

Trump’s pick: Sonny Perdue

Background: Perdue is the former governor of Georgia, having served two terms ending in 2011. An immigration hawk, he grew up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

Government experience: Two terms as Georgia governor and a decade in the state legislature

Status of nomination: Confirmed by the Senate on a vote of 87-11 on April 23.

Evan Vucci / AP

Department of Veterans Affairs

Trump’s pick: Dr. David Shulkin

Background: The only Trump pick currently serving in the Obama administration, Shulkin is now the under secretary for health at the VA. He’s previously served as a top executive at hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City.

Government experience: A year-and-a-half as a senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 100 to 0 on February 13.


Key sub-Cabinet positions


Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency

Trump’s pick: Scott Pruitt

Background: Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma, and in that position he has led the conservative legal fight against the Obama administration’s agenda to combat climate change. Along with other Republican attorneys general, he sued to stop the administration’s climate rules—a case that is still pending in federal court. Like Trump, he has voiced doubts about the science behind climate change and its connection to manmade activities.

Government experience: Six years as Oklahoma attorney general, and eight years in the Oklahoma state senate

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 52-46 on February 17.


Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Ambassador to the United Nations

Trump’s pick: Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina

Background: Haley has been considered a rising Republican star ever since she won election as governor of South Carolina in 2010. She gave her highly sought-after endorsement to Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary last year, and she was seen as a likely vice presidential pick if Rubio had won the nomination. But Rubio didn’t, and Trump’s early selection of Haley as his nominee for U.N. ambassador was a bit of a surprise. She has no formal foreign-policy experience, but her background as the conservative daughter of Indian immigrants undoubtedly appealed to Trump.

Government experience: Six years as South Carolina governor, and another six as a state legislator before that

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 96 to 4.


Zach Gibson / AP

Director, Office of Management and Budget

Trump’s pick: Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina

Background: Mulvaney is a hard-line conservative in the House and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He was a frequent critic of former Speaker John Boehner and voted for budget and debt proposals that called for steep spending cuts across discretionary and entitlement spending programs. The question is whether his support for overhauling Medicare and Social Security and his resistance to major increases in defense spending will conflict with Trump, who took opposing views on the campaign trail.

Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House and four years as a state legislator in South Carolina

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 51-49 on February 16.


Carlos Barria / Reuters

Director, CIA

Trump’s pick: Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas

Background: Pompeo was elected to his fourth term in the House in November and served on the Intelligence Committee. He drew wider attention as a member of the House Benghazi Committee and for his aggressive questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 11-hour testimony in 2015. Before running for Congress, he served as an Army captain and then started a company that manufactured parts for commercial and military airplanes.

Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House

Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 66 to 32 on January 23.

Masked men attack Macedonia MPs in parliament

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Opposition leader wounded as political tension in Balkan nation turns violent

Trump Falls From One Presidential Trap Into Another

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Mucking up an interaction with Congress is a rite of passage for every new president—usually on health care, and especially for those with limited experience in Washington.

The twin pitfalls for a new president are the same ones the great Tommy Lasorda described in his approach to baseball: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.” A president can try to push his vision aggressively on Congress, risking backlash from members—let’s call that the Bill Clinton approach. Alternatively, he can try to hang back and let Congress act, risking the chance that without presidential leadership, members will come up with something he doesn’t like, or even worse that they can’t pass. We’ll call that the Barack Obama approach.

Donald Trump now runs the risk of making both errors, one of each on his two major legislative priorities: Obamacare repeal and tax reform.

Start with the Clinton problem. In 1993, the then-president, fresh to Washington, mounted a push to overhaul the nation’s health system, placing First Lady Hillary Clinton in charge of it. Her approach initially won plaudits—she was smart and mastered a great deal of material quickly—but the effort famously failed. There are several reasons for that, but one was that the White House attempted to impose a plan on Congress, delivering a more-or-less complete health-care bill. That both rubbed members the wrong way and created openings for critics. As the veteran journalist Jerry Seib put it, “President Bill Clinton offered an (overly) detailed health plan in 1993, and his critics picked it apart, chart by chart and page by page.”

When Obama took office in 2009, he also made health overhaul a priority. But having watched Clinton’s failure 16 years earlier, he and his advisers, many of whom were Clinton White House veterans, opted for a far more hands-off approach. “The administration has been careful not to weigh in with too much authority or to make any public pronouncements on the negotiations,” Matt Bai wrote in June 2009.

Obama took lots of flak for that choice. “Among the many problems President Barack Obama confronts on the health-care front, one is fairly simple. He is defending a plan that doesn’t really exist,” Seib wrote that September. A week later, Obama himself admitted overcorrecting. “I, out of an effort to give Congress the ability to do this thing and not step on their toes, probably left too much ambiguity out there, which then allowed opponents of reform to come in and fill up the airwaves with a lot of nonsense,” he told Good Morning America. Months later, after Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts deprived Democrats of a Senate supermajority, Christina Bellantoni wrote that Obama had “all but disappeared from the discussions as congressional leaders attempt to figure out a way to finalize a health-care plan now that they have just 59 Senate seats.”

Obama got his law in the end, but it was a deeply flawed one. It was far enough left to create a conservative bogeyman, while failing to really achieve many progressive priorities; the jury-rigged structure was open to challenges in the courts, which, for example, reduced Medicaid expansion to an optional program in states. The law was deeply unpopular, right up until the moment Trump tried to repeal it.

For the attempt to repeal Obamacare, Trump adopted the Obama strategy. He basically took a very hands-off approach, while laying out a few basic principles he wished to see included. It was only late in the process that Trump intervened personally, inviting lawmakers to the White House for a last-minute persuasion session meant to showcase his prowess as a dealmaker. (It was a sign of just how hands-off he’d been that during that meeting, he felt the necessity to declare that he was 100 percent in support of the House health plan.) But it failed—Speaker Paul Ryan couldn’t get enough votes to pass the bill, and he was forced to pull it.

There were, of course, some significant differences in Obama’s and Trump’s approaches, the distant handling aside. For one, the principles that Trump suggested—such as keeping in place the popular provisions of Obamacare and guaranteeing equal or broader coverage—were essentially impossible for a Republican House to pass. For another, he tried to get it done in two months, with an understaffed, inexperienced White House. Obama, by contrast, had a huge team of veteran Hill figures working for him, waited 14 months into office for a bill to pass, and still nearly failed. (The failed Clinton plan took months of work, too.)

Trump is feeling understandably burned by his experience on Obamacare repeal. In a great behind-the-scenes piece Thursday, Politico reported:

Several administration officials said Trump has told them not to leave the congressional details to Ryan and others—and that he eventually grasped how damaging the health-care defeat could be to the rest of his agenda. …

Now, Trump is forging ahead alone on taxes, rolling out a dramatic package of tax cuts on Wednesday without input from Hill leaders. “We aren’t listening to anyone else on taxes,” said one senior administration official, referring to Ryan. “It’s our plan.”

In other words, Trump looks to be overcorrecting, veering from too hands-off to the opposite extreme, of Clintonian imposition.

But this could go even worse than the health-care debacle. First, tax reform is possibly even more complicated than health care. Republicans agreed broadly on the desire to repeal Obamacare, even as they diverged over what should replace it. Second, the White House may be even less prepared for this fight than it was for the health-care debate. One advantage of being hands-off is you don’t have to know what you’re doing. Not so for the dirigiste approach. The Trump administration has all of the ambition of the Clinton White House, but even less experience and, given the haste, far less time to get up to speed.

Moreover, calling it “our plan,” as the administration official did, is to overstate things. The blueprint that the White House released Wednesday is, as my colleague Derek Thompson observed, barely 100 words long. It is basically a version of the plan that Trump laid out during the campaign last year, but if he or anyone on his staff has significantly filled that plan out with the sorts of details that turn a talking point into legislation, no one has demonstrated that. When Trump announced last week that a plan was coming on Wednesday, he took his own staff by surprise. Meanwhile, the House seems far apart from the Trump plan. Kevin Brady, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, for example, continues to advocate for a border-adjustment tax that the White House says it does not support.

Of course, knowing what you’re doing and having those details ready is not enough to guarantee success—just as Hillary Clinton could tell him. Looking back on the collapse of the 1993 push, she later wrote, “Our most critical mistake was trying to do too much, too fast.” The most likely outcome for Trump is that he will reach a similar conclusion, opting for more limited tax cuts rather than a sweeping reform of the whole system. But it appears he will do so only after having fallen into both of the traps laid for inexperienced presidents.

United States Assistance for Egypt

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Elliott Abrams testified before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. He gave his assessment of the security side of the U.S.-Egypt aid relationship and suggested that the United States should reconsider its security and economic assistance to Egypt. 

Merkel warns Britain over Brexit ‘illusions’

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Theresa May says comments signal that EU members are lining up to ‘oppose us’

French launch probe into football World Cup bids

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Blatter questioned amid doubts over Russia and Qatar tournaments

Angry French voters muscle into the picture

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

Emmanuel Macron’s skirmish in Amiens offers a snapshot of globalisation

Draghi fends off German critics and keeps stimulus

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

ECB leaves rates unchanged and will continue bond purchase programme

EU agency faces €400m London rent bill after Brexit

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Brussels says UK must foot bill after European Medicines Agency is relocated to EU

Gender Differences in the Association Between Conduct Disorder and Risky Sexual Behavior

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

Conduct disorder is associated with risky sexual behavior among youth, but the specific behavior most strongly associated with conduct disorder is different for female and males.

How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

Getty Images.

A World in Disarray

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

In this book, CFR President Richard N. Haass offers a timely examination of a world increasingly defined by disorder. Rich in history, the book examines today's world, how we got here, and what needs doing. It argues for an updated global operating system with a new approach to sovereignty, providing steps for how to get there.

Rail Demand Forecasting Estimation Study

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

Review of the rail demand forecasting methods used by government, the study was completed in 2 phases.

Is Ukip finished?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Ukip changed British politics, but may have put itself out of a job.

For a party that has only ever had two MPs, Ukip has held an outsize influence on politics: without it and its charismatic former leader Nigel Farage, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Its sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. So is it all over for Ukip?

Is Ukip finished? Polling

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16%. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 8%, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Is Ukip finished? Parliament

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13% of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Leader Paul Nuttall shut himself in a hotel room to avoid questions about whether he would stand for parliament, and both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

Is Ukip finished? Membership

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

Is Ukip finished? What it means for other parties

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty

New amendment to GOP health bill effectively allows full elimination of community rating, exposing sick to higher premiums

By Matthew Fiedler from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

In recent weeks, the Trump Administration and House Republicans have been engaged in negotiations aimed at resurrecting the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Last night, the House Rules Committee posted an amendment to the AHCA emerging from those negotiations. The amendment would allow states to waive certain insurance market regulations that exist under current law,…
      
 
 

Can Jeremy Corbyn win the 2017 general election?

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Does the Labour leader have a chance of becoming prime minister?

 

After less than two years as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn is leading the party into a snap general election. This isn’t the first vote of national significance since his election, however, since he was in office during the 2016 EU referendum.

It’s also not his first serious challenge: after the Brexit vote, his MPs voted “no confidence” in him and Owen Smith challenged him for the leadership. Corbyn saw off that threat to his position convincingly, so can he pull out another electoral triumph and become prime minister?

Can Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister? The polls

Since May 2015, the Conservative Party has consistently led in the polls. The latest polls gives Labour ratings in the mid-20s, while the Conservatives are on the mid-40s – numbers which, if borne out at the polls, would give Labour its worst result since 1935.

But should we believe the general election polls? Glen O’Hara, professor of modern and contemporary history at Oxford Brookes University, points out that the polls have been wrong before, and could be overstating Labour’s collapse. However, a 20-point gap is far outside the margin of error. A Corbyn win would be an unprecedented upset.

Can Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister? Electoral record

At the 2016 local elections, Labour did not gain any councils and lost 18 seats and 4% of the vote. James Schneider, the co-founder of Momentum who is now Corbyn’s head of strategic communications, said this showed Labour was on the right trajectory, but it’s a disappointment for an opposition to make no gains. And at the Copeland by-election this February, Labour lost the seat to the Tories – the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Can  Jeremy Corbyn become prime minister? The verdict

Jeremy Corbyn’s path to power would be one of the greatest surprises in British politics. But unlikely doesn’t mean impossible. It would take some extraordinary events, but it could happen. Check out the latest odds to see how the markets rate his chances.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader. Getty

Saudi Arabia’s young prince U-turns on reform

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

EVEN at the height of the Arab spring the Saudi regime had few domestic opponents. At their best they mustered a few hundred protesters to gather for a “day of rage” in March 2011 outside the interior ministry demanding a freely elected parliament and a constitutional monarchy. Many of its organisers were later jailed; but fear is only part of the reason for absence of protest. In a kingdom which acts like a (heavily armed) charity doling out cradle-to-coffin welfare, few see a reason to upset the felafel stand. Two-thirds of Saudi Arabia’s 21m citizens are employed by the government and expect annual pay rises whether working or not.

Confronted with vast deficits after the oil price collapsed in 2014, the king’s favoured son, Muhammad bin Salman (pictured centre), set out to change all that. The 31-year-old, who serves as deputy crown prince, defence minister and head of the committee that runs the economy, is widely considered to be Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, given the great age (81) of his father. His ministers called civil servants lazy and not only unveiled a transformation plan with austerity measures, but actually began implementing...Continue reading

In its third year of war, Yemen risks fragmentation

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Welcome to Aden

FROM the balcony of his hilltop palace, the governor, Major-General Ahmad bin Bourek, surveys Mukalla, the port and capital of Yemen’s largest province, Hadramawt. It is not yet his kingdom. But to mark the first anniversary of the expulsion of al-Qaeda, the jihadist group that seized the city in 2015, he declared a public holiday and hosted thousands of grandees at a conference at which he pushed his demand for autonomy. Flunkeys distribute badges with his portrait, hang banners proclaiming him leader along the city’s highways and organise military parades. Backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which last April wrested back control of the port in an assault by land and sea, he sees a new political map of Yemen emerging from two years of war. “We can’t wait for them to liberate the rest of the country,” he says. “If the conflict lasts much longer, Yemen will split into duwailat (principalities).”

If so, it would be reverting to type. For 139 years, the British avoided the north and nannied 14 bickering sheikhdoms across southern Yemen. When the British Empire withdrew, socialists in the south...Continue reading

How The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme brought humanity to horror

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

In memory of a great movie man - and a generous soul. 

Professional distance is important as a journalist. I’ll always be grateful to the editor who told me, as I set off to interview a musical hero, “He’s not your friend; he doesn’t want to be your friend; he’s never going to be your friend.” The funny thing about the films of Jonathan Demme, who has died aged 73, was that they felt like the work of a pal. That was his special gift—not only to tell stories dynamically but to do so with an emotional joy and directness that spoke to a common humanity. This may not be immediately apparent if his biggest hit, The Silence of the Lambs, is the only movie of his that you’ve seen, though even that was intensely humane in a way that its imitators never were.

Demme welcomed you in. In his best movies, such as Melvin and Howard, about the brief, unlikely friendship between a Utah milkman and Howard Hughes, or the screwball thriller Something Wild, which was two-thirds riotous and one-third hair-raisingly scary, you felt you were being invited into some gleeful shindig. The characters might have been people he’d run into, whom he was certain you would find every bit as enchanting as he did, and the soundtrack was littered with these bouncing tunes he’d heard and that he simply couldn’t wait to share with you. The sets and costumes had a thrown-together, thrift-shop feel; you could base an entire fancy-dress party around the garish outfits and hairdos from his delicious Mafia comedy Married to the Mob, while some of the most eye-catching effects in his Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense are achieved with only a springy household lamp and an imaginative use of light and shadow.

Beneath the bristling, bustling surface of each film was an innate curiosity about people. It is obvious in pictures like Citizens Band, his 1977 comedy about CB radio users, and the stormy but sweet-natured family drama Rachel Getting Married, but let’s take that more challenging example of The Silence of the Lambs, which showed how his generous spirit could infuse even the dankest chambers of genre cinema. Thomas Harris, on whose novel the picture was based, had a fairly cut-and-dried approach to issues of good and evil. Demme was more flexible, which is what made him such an interesting choice of director for that material, as opposed to blood-and-thunder merchants like Ridley Scott (who made the sequel, Hannibal) or Brett Ratner (who directed Red Dragon, based on the same source material as the first Hannibal Lecter film, Manhunter).

Demme began from the starting-point that everyone is human, which is how he and the screenwriter Ted Tally and the actor Ted Levine came to shape the portrayal of the killer Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill. Demme described Gumb not as a bad guy but as a “bad guy who is, in fact, a terribly damaged guy whose life has been a disaster”. No wonder he was upset when the film was accused of homophobia despite the fact that he had gone to great lengths to explain in the movie that Gumb is not gay. “The film very clearly says that Jame Gumb spends his life altering himself to escape from the terrible fact of who he is, and how he’s been abused,” he explained. “So it makes sense that if he’s heterosexual, he’ll try being homosexual, and vice versa. But people heard the line about him having a male lover, and saw him looking effeminate, which was enough for some audiences. But I knew in my heart of hearts that Gumb wasn’t gay, so I was happy that the film opened the door on discussing negative portrayals. I welcomed that other viewpoint.”

He was averse to using violence in his films without also showing that it had consequences — what is his greatest movie, Something Wild, if not a demonstration of that very point? “In Something Wild, I was trying to show that if you behave violently, you will taste violence,” he said in 1988. “And I feel there are definite signals in the first half of the movie that the characters had better straighten up or else.” The shots fired by Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) at the end of The Silence of the Lambs are not gratuitous or exciting; they really count. “There’s nothing to cheer about when someone is shot dead,” he said. At the end of The Truth About Charlie, his unloved Nouvelle Vague-tinged remake of Charade, he has the hero (Mark Wahlberg) implore everyone to put down their guns. And at the climax of his 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, the weight of the entire film rests on a single bullet. “To whatever extent the glamorisation of gun violence helps in some way in my country to continue the acceptance of guns, I want to remove myself from that equation,” he said. 

There were many reasons to love Jonathan Demme, not least the movies themselves and the fact that he was a sweet and generous soul. (The L.A. Times critic Justin Chang tweeted that he told Demme: “‘Y’know, you’re really nice!’ I couldn’t help it. He really, really was.” I said something similar as I presented him with my Stop Making Sense DVD—professional distance be damned—and asked him to sign it. He wrote: “Keep on rockin’”.) I can think of one more reason to love him. His family has requested that any donations be made in his name to the charity Americans for Immigrant Justice, which is just another sign that we need Demme more than ever just at the very moment that we have lost him.

 

Getty

Britain and the European Union: Explaining Britain’s vote to leave the EU

By from European Union. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Print section Print Headline:  Brexit blues Print Fly Title:  Britain and the European Union UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to have a better death Fly Title:  Britain and the European Union Main image:  Cold shoulder Cold shoulder Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union. By Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley.Cambridge University Press; 256 pages; £15.99 and $19.99. THERE are many theories about why Britons voted last June to leave the European Union. They include hostility to immigration, dislike of Brussels bureaucrats, worries about sovereignty, an anti-elite mood, the discontent of those left behind by globalisation, a long history of Euroscepticism and a stridently anti-EU press. Yet analysis of hard survey data is rare. The great virtue of “Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union”, by three academics, is that it is based on detailed regression analyses of panel surveys ...

Charlemagne: Europhiles happy about France should worry about Poland

By from European Union. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  France has comforted Europhiles, but they should worry about Poland Print Headline:  Illiberalism lives Print Fly Title:  Charlemagne UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How to have a better death Fly Title:  Charlemagne Main image:  20170429_EUD000_0.jpg IT IS crucial to keep Siemiatycze pretty, says Piotr Siniakowicz, the mayor, himself resplendent in bright-blue suit and silk pocket-square. The border with Belarus is a hop and a skip away, so this small town in eastern Poland may mark visitors’ first encounter with the European Union. Siemiatycze brims with well-maintained nursery schools and a gleaming sports centre, thanks to EU funds lavished on the region since Poland joined in 2004. Remittances from thousands of émigrés in Belgium have poured into handsome houses, and businesses depend on those who return for holidays: ...

Ireland urges EU to avoid row over UK Brexit bill

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Foreign minister fears issues such as status of Irish border could be sidelined

The NS Podcast #209: 1997 Anniversary Special

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

20 years on from Labour's general election landslide, Helen and Stephen host a special edition looking back at the party's journey. Lord Spencer Livermore describes what it was like to be part of the 1997 campaign team. Kate Mossman reminds us what critics say Cool Britannia was listening to - and what was actually topping the charts (Barbie Girl). And Helen conducts a dramatic reading of our May 2 leader. Warning: deeply optimistic content.

You can subscribe to the podcast through iTunes here or with this RSS feed: http://rss.acast.com/newstatesman, or listen using the player below.

Want to give us feedback on our podcast, or have an idea for something we should cover?

Visit newstatesman.com/podcast for more details and how to contact us.

GETTY

Database of Research on the Human Impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

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

Database that provides information on research into the human impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Tim Farron is being unfairly maligned for inviting us to smell his spaniel

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

The truth behind “smell my spaniel”.

Out on the campaign trail in Cambridge, the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron was caught inexplicably inviting voters to “smell my spaniel”.

Here is the shock footage:

“Smell my spaniel, maybe, maybe… oh, how are you? Good to see you!” he said, while the top political journalists of the nation scratched their heads. “A new Lib Dem slogan?” asked the BBC. The “catchphrase of the general election” declared the Telegraph. A new, surprisingly progressive “theological pronouncement”, was this mole’s first thought.

And he has, of course, been ridiculed online:

But no.

Look closer.

What’s going on is clear. Farron is not inviting voters to sniff his spaniel at all; he is addressing a dog. One of the activists in the huddle he is speaking to is holding a little dog wearing a Liberal Democrat rosette:

And here is said dog with Farron:

Farron is clearly being sniffed by the dog, because he is carrying the smell of his own dog, Jasper the spaniel.

Was Farron actually commenting that the little Lib Dem pooch was sniffing its party leader because he smelt like another dog? In these uncertain times of fake news and eroding trust, let’s get our spaniel sniffing story straight.

Twitter/@timfarron

What an NYU Administrator Got Wrong About Campus Speech

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Earlier this week, Ulrich Baer, a vice provost at New York University, published an op-ed in The New York Times defending student-activist efforts to shut down speakers at institutions of higher education like Auburn, UC Berkeley, and Middlebury. He urged readers inclined to defend liberal norms on matters of speech to adopt “a more sophisticated understanding” and argued that “the parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.”

Were there “parameters of speech” at Berkeley 10 or 15 years ago that denied standing to students who have it today? What were the parameters? Who are the students?  

The op-ed is elusive throughout in a manner typical of university administrators with censorious instincts. Many words are lavished on a questionably relevant anecdote about the Holocaust and the obligatory theory of a postmodern French philosopher. Very few words clarify what speech is to be suppressed by what standards, or who is to decide if they are met, as if we needn’t worry overmuch about limiting principles or the abuses that invariably follow when they are absent—even though marginalized groups typically bear the attendant burdens most heavily.   

The op-ed comes closest to clarifying what speech is to be suppressed after casting ostensibly unworthy speech as that which marshals abstract argument against personal experience. The dice are quickly loaded with Baer’s choice of example: He leads readers to think of bygone instances of Holocaust denial, “where invidious but often well-publicized cranks confronted survivors with the absurd challenge to produce incontrovertible eyewitness evidence of their experience of the killing machines set up by the Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Not only was such evidence unavailable, but it also challenged the Jewish survivors to produce evidence of their own legitimacy in a discourse that had systematically denied their humanity.”

Grounding the op-ed in that example is odd for a few reasons.

While it is monstrous to tell a Holocaust survivor that the horrors he or she lived through did not happen, the paradigm of evidence-based empiricism seems preferable, for those intent on Holocaust deniers losing, than a paradigm where personal experience is paramount. After all, Holocaust survivors will not be with us much longer; those who feel sure the Holocaust never happened will outlive them.

What’s more, even though robust free-speech protections permitted anyone to deny the Holocaust in America, and protected neo-Nazis as they marched through Skokie (a free-speech precedent later marshaled to defend the speech of racial minorities), Holocaust denial stayed a highly stigmatized, fringe belief. The descendants of Holocaust survivors are not marginal victims kept down by bygone free speech. So the culture of relatively absolute free speech worked. Indeed, Holocaust denial is arguably less widespread in the country with no laws against it than some Western European countries that have long criminalized denying the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Baer concludes from his example that “certain topics restrict speech as a public good.” So let’s grant the premise. Maybe there are certain topics like that.

Of course, we could as easily load the dice in the other direction, illustrating the danger of elevating personal experience over demands for evidence or abstract reasoning. Consider the marginalized son of Appalachian coal miners who goes off to college feeling sure, based on personal experience, that the climate is not changing. Few would disagree that having deeply held experience-based beliefs contradicted by evidence, and siding with the evidence, is part of what college should teach.

What’s more, free speech facilitates making experiential claims as much as reasoned claims, so even if your premise is that certain debates are setbacks for the public good, you might still champion robust speech protections so experiential claims are protected. Instead, the op-ed gives only the Holocaust example, making it seem monstrous to subject personal experience to the marketplace of ideas, then segues to the most specific account Baer offers of who and what should get censored, by his lights.

“Some things are unmentionable and undebatable, but not because they offend the sensibilities of the sheltered young,” he writes. “Some topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms.” He adds that recent student protests “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship. Liberal free-speech advocates rush to point out that the views of these individuals must be heard first to be rejected. But this is not the case. Universities invite speakers not chiefly to present otherwise unavailable discoveries, but to present to the public views they have presented elsewhere. When those views invalidate the humanity of some people, they restrict speech as a public good.”

To reformulate that sketchy explanation into a speech test:

  1. It is forbidden to mention or debate the claims a) that some human beings are by definition inferior to others; or b) that some human beings are illegal or unworthy of legal standing.
  2. Prior restraint on speakers is okay if they’ve violated rule one in the past.
  3. Failure to adhere to rule one invalidates the humanity of some people.

The last claim is most easily dispatched.

Don’t worry, students, Milo Yiannopolous does not, in fact, possess the power to “invalidate” your humanity—as yet, he hasn’t even shown an ability to dignify his own. The humanity of every individual is a fact. No one can invalidate it with speech. Teaching undergraduates otherwise renders them needlessly vulnerable to bigots and trolls. (And  people who believe that, say, undocumented Honduran immigrants have no legal right to live here are not, by and large, even claiming their humanity is invalid.)

As for the rest:

Does Baer grasp what his positions imply? Using the standards he offers, here is a partial list of speakers that would have to be denied a platform at New York University:

  • Barack Obama, who ordered and later defended a drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen he deemed unworthy of legal standing and subject to a kill list because of his work on behalf of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda; and who deported hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants during his tenure, including household raids on Central American families that the last president presided over as recently as the autumn of 2016.
  • Bill Clinton, who declared in his 1995 State of the Union address, “All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public services they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.”
  • Hillary Clinton, who said during her most recent campaign, “I voted numerous times when I was a senator to spend money to build a barrier to try to prevent illegal immigrants from coming in. And I do think you have to control your borders.”

As Jonathan Chait aptly observers, “Nearly all American politicians in both major parties support some limits on legal immigration, and some measures to enforce those laws. Virtually all of them define some human beings as ‘unworthy of legal standing.’”

If Plato were reincarnated for a day and if he offered to deliver a lecture at NYU, one wonders if Baer would decline the offer, what with the philosopher’s writing on eugenics and belief that some humans are inferior to others. In fact, since Baer thinks some questions Plato raised are “unmentionable and undebatable,” one wonders if or why he is comfortable with NYU professors assigning the philosopher as course reading, let alone asking undergraduates to grapple with his ideas in class discussions.

Baer is presumably earnest in believing that declaring certain speakers and ideas beyond mention or debate “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people,” and that in so doing, he is acting as the righteous champion and protector of oppressed groups. But implicit in his understanding are lazy stereotypes common to many who share his views on speech.

To attend New York University, as I did for graduate school, or to converse with undergraduates at dozens of selective colleges and universities, as I have spent scores of hours doing, confirms what any observer of American life ought to know: that the opinions of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, gays, lesbians, trans people, undocumented immigrants, foreign students, people from minority religious groups, and those of members of every other identity group on campus are hugely diverse. There is no reason to believe (as some white supremacists do) that minority students need an experiential paradigm to thrive, or are less suited to reasoning or liberal values, views that Baer seems to imply but never quite states outright.

What’s more, in a failure to think intersectionally, Baer seems not to realize that there are millions of black and Hispanic Americans whose views on, say, illegal immigration or transgender rights run afoul of his standards for what is even mentionable. How much speech by historically marginalized groups will be stifled in Baer’s effort “to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people”?

To invoke a postmodern philosopher or the critical race theorists, and to proceed as if their views on hearing and suppressing speech are the consensus position of a generation, or students of color, or that members of some groups are inclined to thrive under a censorious model of speech, assumes group beliefs, inclinations, and psychological predispositions not in evidence. In fact, many members of minority groups prefer an education free from the soft bigotry of those stereotyping them as snowflakes who need protecting from ideas when they can more than hold their own.

There are students of color at Middlebury who are upset that Charles Murray was shut down; at Claremont McKenna who are upset that Heather Mac Donald was shut down; and at Yale who are upset at the treatment of Nicholas and Erika Christakis. Some are loath to publicly state their views, lest they be stigmatized by campus activists as “shady people of color.” And one needn’t long wander the streets of Berkeley, California, to run across one of the world’s most ethnically diverse collections of free-speech absolutists on the planet, among many other leftist factions.

When Baer asserts that “the idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks,” but that, rather, “it means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community,” he further traffics in a notion so pernicious that it is vital to reject it. If Richard Spencer or Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopolous retired from public life tomorrow, I believe the world would be a better place; I am glad people voice their opposition to them; if I weren’t a journalist I would happily hold a protest sign outside one of their talks; and I wish conservative groups would stop inviting them as speakers. But it is inaccurate and disempowering to tell undergraduates that any bigot can render them unable to participate in public discourse merely by speaking on campus; or can render them less than fully recognized in their community merely by addressing it.

“What is under severe attack, in the name of an absolute notion of free speech,” Baer writes, “are the rights, both legal and cultural, of minorities to participate in public discourse.” In fact, minorities are not only free to participate in discourse on college campuses, they are doing so vigorously; organizations like the ACLU and FIRE stand ready to defend any abrogations of their rights; and even their protests face orders of magnitude less pushback from faculty and administrators than white college students faced in the 1960s, precisely because several generations of civil libertarians have fought like hell for extremely broad notions of free speech to prevail on campus.

That leaves one last pernicious formulation to address.

One insight many free-speech advocates share is that opining on what “should” or “shouldn’t” be up for debate is beside the point. Chattel slavery shouldn’t have been up for debate. Thank goodness that abolitionists joined and won the debate anyway. Gay marriage shouldn’t have been up for debate. Thank goodness Andrew Sullivan wasn’t acculturated to believe that merely engaging in that debate risked invalidating his existence. Baer believes the claim that some people are “illegal or unworthy of legal standing” shouldn’t be up for debate today. How does he suppose that unpopular position will advance and triumph over antagonists who presently include an overwhelming majority of Americans—and most elected officials from both parties—if the next generation of educational elites is prevented from debating or even mentioning the matter in the one setting where they are training to reason well? They’d benefit from being better prepared than that. Their antagonists will be.

Why is the Handmaid's Tale claimed as feminist, when it's deeply ambivalent about the movement?

By Glosswitch from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

The scapegoating of the anti-porn movement, Offred’s longing for hand cream - these feel like digs at second-wave feminists.

In a recent piece for the New York Times, Margaret Atwood tackled the question of whether or not her 1985 work The Handmaid’s Tale ought to be considered a feminist novel:

"If you mean an ideological tract in which all women are angels and/or so victimized they are incapable of moral choice, no. If you mean a novel in which women are human beings — with all the variety of character and behavior that implies — and are also interesting and important, and what happens to them is crucial to the theme, structure and plot of the book, then yes."

On the face of it, this seems a reasonable answer. It all depends on what one means by “feminist”. And yet, I can’t help thinking: if that’s the case, are those really our only two options?

Do we have to choose between a feminism which accords women no moral agency and one which merely tells that women are people, too? Certainly if it’s the latter, then Atwood is right that “many books are ‘feminist’”. The trouble is, I’m not sure such a definition gets us very far.

For instance, last week the cast of Hulu’s television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale caused controversy by appearing to suggest that the story was not feminist at all. In truth what was said did not deviate significantly from Atwood’s earlier comments. “It’s a human story,” claimed Elizabeth Moss, the actress who plays Offred, “because women’s rights are human rights.”

While it’s difficult to argue with that – unless one genuinely believes that women are not human – it’s a statement that grates, not least because it has an air of apology about it. What is really being emphasised here, and in Atwood’s earlier definition? The humanity of women, or the applicability of women’s stories to those humans who actually matter, that is, the men? 

It’s not always clear, which highlights a double-bind feminists often find ourselves in when discussing not just women’s art, but our politics, spaces and experiences. Regardless of whether or not we choose to universalise – “it’s just human experience!” – or to specify – “it’s a female-only issue!” –  there’s always a way for us to end up losing. We’re either erasing or essentialising; either we’re absorbed into the male default or accused of complicity in our own marginalisation.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a rich, brilliant novel, not least because there is no clear moral path one can negotiate through it. This is one of the reasons why I’ve found the impulse of some to treat it as a warning or call to action in the face of current threats to women’s rights both simplistic and inaccurate. The book contains an ambivalence towards women who might be described as feminists which often spills over into outright hostility or blame. This may be part of what is meant by treating women, feminists among them, as human beings, but we therefore need to take care in treating this as any kind of template for a politics of our own.

 “Yes,” writes Atwood in her New York Times piece, “[women] will gladly take positions of power over other women, even — and, possibly, especially — in systems in which women as a whole have scant power.” Yet there are no men in Gilead who rival Serena Joy, Aunt Lydia or even Janine in their grotesqueness. In contrast to them, the Commander seems almost endearing with his scrabble and his old magazines. Certain details – the scapegoating of the anti-porn movement, Offred’s longing for hand cream, the butter used as moisturiser – feel almost clumsy, deliberate digs at what Atwood has called “that initial phase of feminism when you weren’t supposed to wear frocks and lipstick”. It seems ironic to me, at a time when the loudest voices of protest against real-life surrogacy are those of radical, rather than liberal, feminists, that The Handmaid’s Tale’s own depiction of radicals as pro-natalist or extremist has not prompted a more nuanced reception of any purported message.

Yet this isn’t to discount the value of Atwood’s work to feminists exploring issues such as reproductive exploitation, faith and sexual agency. If one accords the novel the same respect one might accord a work that focuses on human experience which happens to be male, then it ceases to be a matter of whether one is able to say “look, women are people!” (of course we are) or “look, the baddies here are the same ones we’re facing now!” (they’re not, at least not quite). Hypothetical futures, in which gender relations are reimagined, expand our own understanding of our space in this world, as women in the here and now.

All too often, to count as human, women must consent to have their femaleness – that thing that makes them other – disregarded. The same is not true for men in relation to maleness. There’s no need to stress the universal applicability of men’s stories; it will already be assumed. By contrast, women are expected to file down all the rough edges in order to make their stories fit into a template created by and for men. It’s either that or remain on the outside looking in. Either women must have no individual narrative or we must have no specificity.

Where is the third option, the one where our own experiences get to reshape what being human actually means? Where our relationship with power is seen as something other than a diluted version of men’s?

I think it could be all around us, in the stories we tell. We just need to piece it together, in a space that is neither outside nor in, neither feminist nor apologetically neutral, but both female and human at once.  

Hulu

Development and Maintenance of Standardized Cross Setting Patient Assessment Data for Post-Acute Care

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

This report presents results of the first Alpha 1 feasibility test of proposed items to include in the post-acute care patient assessment instruments for measuring seven areas of health status for Medicare beneficiaries.

The Weaponization of Information

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

Testimony presented before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Cybersecurity on April 27, 2017.

Tony Blair won't endorse the Labour leader - Jeremy Corbyn's fans are celebrating

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

The thrice-elected Prime Minister is no fan of the new Labour leader. 

Labour heavyweights usually support each other - at least in public. But the former Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't bring himself to do so when asked on Sky News.

He dodged the question of whether the current Labour leader was the best person to lead the country, instead urging voters not to give Theresa May a "blank cheque". 

If this seems shocking, it's worth remembering that Corbyn refused to say whether he would pick "Trotskyism or Blairism" during the Labour leadership campaign. Corbyn was after all behind the Stop the War Coalition, which opposed Blair's decision to join the invasion of Iraq. 

For some Corbyn supporters, it seems that there couldn't be a greater boon than the thrice-elected PM witholding his endorsement in a critical general election. 

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Magical thinking will not save Trump’s tax plans

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

The Republican party’s sums on revenue and debt simply do not add up

Managing the Long War

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

Testimony presented before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade on April 27, 2017.

Want to beat Theresa May? First, accept that she's popular

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

The difficult truth for the centre and left, and advocates of a new party, is that people don't "vote for the Tories reluctantly".

An election campaign that has been short on laughs has been livened up by a modest proposal by an immodest man: the barrister Jolyon Maugham, who used to write about tax for the New Statesman as well as advising Eds Miliband and Balls, has set out his (now mothballed) plans for a new party called Spring.

The original idea was a 28-day festival (each day would be celebrated with the national costumes, food and drink of one of the European Union’s member states) culiminating in the announcement of the candidacy of Spring’s first parliamentary candidate, one Jolyon Maugham, to stand against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead. He has reluctantly abandoned the plan, because there isn’t the time between now and the election to turn it around.

There are many problems with the idea, but there is one paragraph in particular that leaps out:

“Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction. No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems. And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.”

Even within this paragraph there are a number of problems. Say what you like about Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty but it seems hard to suggest that there is not a fairly large difference between the two – regardless of which one you think is which – that might perhaps be worth engaging with. There are fair criticisms of the Liberal Democrats’ uncertain start to this campaign but they have been pretty clear on their platform when they haven’t been playing defence on theological issues.

But the biggest problem is the last sentence: “We vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative”. A couple of objections here: the first, I am not sure who the “we” are. Is it disgruntled former Labour members like Maugham who threw their toys out of the pram after Corbyn’s second successive leadership victory? If you are voting for the Tories reluctantly, I have invented a foolproof solution to “voting for the Tories reluctantly” that has worked in every election I’ve voted in so far: it’s to vote against the Tories.  (For what it’s worth, Maugham has said on Twitter that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in his home constituency.)

I suspect, however, that the “we” Maugham is talking about are the voters. And actually, the difficult truth for the left and centre-left is that people are not voting for Theresa May “reluctantly”: they are doing it with great enthusiasm. They have bought the idea that she is a cautious operator and a safe pair of hands, however illusory that might be. They think that a big vote for the Tories increases the chance of a good Brexit deal, however unlikely that is.

There is not a large bloc of voters who are waiting for a barrister to turn up with a brass band playing Slovenian slow tunes in Maidenhead or anywhere in the country. At present, people are happy with Theresa May as Prime Minister. "Spring" is illustrative of a broader problem on much of the centre-left: they have a compelling diagnosis about what is wrong with Corbyn's leadership. They don't have a solution to any of Labour's problems that predate Corbyn, or have developed under him but not because of him, one of which is the emergence of a Tory leader who is popular and trusted. (David Cameron was trusted but unpopular, Boris Johnson is popular but distrusted.) 

Yes, Labour’s position would be a lot less perilous if they could either turn around Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity ratings or sub him out for a fresh, popular leader. That’s one essential ingredient of getting the Conservatives out of power. But the other, equally important element is understanding why Theresa May is popular – and how that popularity can be diminished and dissipated. 

Photo: Getty

Spain’s far-left calls no-confidence vote in Rajoy

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Podemos move unlikely to oust veteran leader but could embarrass the rival Socialists

Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell don’t need to stand again as MPs – they’ve already won

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. 

We’re a week in to the campaign, and it’s clear that the 2017 election is going to be hell on toast. The polls show the Tories beating Labour in Scotland (for the first time in a generation) and Wales (for the first time in a century). The bookies put the chances of a Labour majority at around 20/1, odds that are striking mainly because they contain just one zero.

The only element of suspense in this election is whether Theresa May will win a big enough majority to keep Labour out of power for a decade, or one big enough to keep it out for an entire generation. In sum: if you’re on the left, this election will be awful.

But there was one bright spot, a deep well of Schadenfreude that I thought might get us through: the campaign would provide plentiful opportunities to watch the people who got us into this mess be humiliatingly rejected by the electorate yet again.

After all, Ukip’s polling numbers have halved since last summer and the party has fallen back into fourth place, behind the pro-European Lib Dems. Nigel Farage has failed to become an MP seven times. It thus seemed inevitable both that Farage would stand, and that he would lose. Again.

If the vexingly popular Farage has never made it to parliament, the odds that his replacement as Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall (the Walter Mitty of Bootle), would manage it seemed minimal. Ukip may have won last year’s referendum; that did not mean its leaders wouldn’t still lose elections, preferably in the most embarrassing way possible.

The true highlight of the election, though, promised to be Clacton. The Essex seaside town is the only constituency ever to have returned a Ukip candidate at a general election, opting to let the Tory defector Douglas Carswell stay on in 2015. But Carswell’s libertarian belief that Brexit was definitely not about immigration always seemed an odd fit with Ukip, and he left the party in March. In the upcoming election, he seemed certain to face a challenge from the party’s immigration-obsessed donor Arron Banks.

The Clacton election, in other words, was expected to serve as a pleasing metaphor for Ukip’s descent back into irrelevance. The libertarians and nativists would rip chunks out of each other for a few weeks while the rest of us sniggered, before both inevitably lost the seat to a safe pair of Tory hands. This election will be awful, but Clacton was going to be brilliant.

But no: 2017 deprives us of even that pleasure. Carswell has neatly sidestepped the possibility of highlighting his complete lack of personal support by standing down, with the result that he can tell himself he is quitting undefeated.

Carswell has always stood apart from Ukip but on this matter, at least, the party has rushed to follow his lead. Arron Banks spent a few days claiming that he would be running in Clacton. Then he visited the town and promptly changed his mind. At a press conference on 24 April, Paul Nuttall was asked whether he planned to stand for a seat in Westminster. Rather than answering, he locked himself in a room, presumably in the hope that the journalists outside would go away. Really.

As for Farage, he seems finally to have shaken his addiction to losing elections and decided not to stand at all. “It would be a very easy win,” he wrote in the Daily Tele­graph, “and for me a personal vindication to get into the House of Commons after all these years of standing in elections.” He was like an American teenager assuring his mates that his definitely real Canadian girlfriend goes to another school.

Why does all of this bother me? I don’t want these people anywhere near Westminster, and if they insisted on standing for a seat there would be at least the chance that, in these febrile times, one of them might actually win. So why am I annoyed that they aren’t even bothering?

Partly I’m infuriated by the cowardice on show. They have wrecked my country, completely and irrevocably, and then they’ve just legged it. It’s like a version of Knock Down Ginger, except instead of ringing the doorbell they’ve set fire to the house.

Partly, too, my frustration comes from my suspicion that it doesn’t matter whether Ukip fields a single candidate in this election. Theresa May’s Tories have already assimilated the key tenets of Farageism. That Nigel Farage no longer feels the need to claw his way into parliament merely highlights that he no longer needs to.

Then there’s the fury generated by my lingering sense that these men have managed to accrue a great deal of power without the slightest hint of accountability. In the south London seat of Vauxhall, one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in one of the most pro-Remain cities in the UK, the Labour Leave campaigner Kate Hoey is expected to face a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats. Even Labour members are talking about voting tactically to get their hated MP out.

It remains to be seen whether that campaign succeeds but there is at least an opportunity for angry, pro-European lefties to register their discontent with Hoey. By contrast, Farage and his henchmen have managed to rewrite British politics to a degree that no one has achieved in decades, yet there is no way for those who don’t approve to make clear that they don’t like it.

Mostly, though, my frustration is simpler than that. I just loathe these people. I want to see them humiliated. I want to see them stumble from gaffe to gaffe for six weeks before coming fourth – but now we will be deprived of that. Faced with losing, the biggest names in Ukip have decided that they no longer want to play. And so they get to win again. They always bloody win. 

Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty

Join the New Statesman as our Head of Production

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

We're looking for a multitalented candidate to oversee our production process.

The New Statesman is going from strength to strength, and so we are creating a new role - head of production. See below for the job specifications, and apply by 12 noon on 12 May 2017 to helen @ newstatesman co uk. Please include a CV and tell us what you could bring to the New Statesman, and use the subject line: "Head of Production". Please indicate your current salary and notice period.

Head of production

This is a full-time senior role with management responsibilities. The head of production will be responsible for overseeing the New Statesman’s high editorial standards across all its products, including the magazine, website and digital editions. They will manage two part-time sub-editors.

The head of production will be responsible for co-ordinating the whole production team, ensuring that staff are working quickly, efficiently and as a team; that layouts are created as section editors require; and that pictures are added to pages in a timely fashion.

They will oversee the sub-editing and flow of copy and manage the production desk, and liaise with section editors on deadlines and proofing. The head of production will also be the point of contact with the printers throughout the working week.

They will be the hub of the production desk, taking a broad view of the magazine, website and digital editions and looking out for legal and ethical issues, and headline/advert/supplement clashes. They will be responsible for ensuring that all pages are sent to press by the print deadline, converting them to PDF if necessary. They will work with section editors to ensure that copy is error-free and presented with wit and intelligence through headlines, straplines and captions. (They will also be relaxed about "they" as a singular; after all, it's been used like that since the 14th century.) They will work with some of the best writers in the English language today, and make their copy sparkle on the page and screen.

As well as sub-editing skills, the head of production should have, or be willing to acquire, working knowledge of InDesign and PhotoShop, and the ability to navigate picture libraries. Some knowledge of web content management systems would be helpful. 

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Potato and Juliet: how Mark Rylance makes children like Shakespeare

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

A presenter who speaks freely but in the sort of sentences which can be used as powerful, off-the-cuff links throughout a programme is rare as a unicorn. 

How young can you learn Shakespeare? A rare repeat of a 1998 programme presented by Mark Rylance (27 April, 6.30am, rebroadcast 1.30pm and 8.30pm) asks the question. Not yet a superstar incapable of resisting a part in the new Christopher Nolan film, Rylance was then the artistic director of the Globe Theatre. Just an Abrahamic guy in a silly hat (most likely), sitting all mystical in a class of six-year-olds and asking things like what the word “Romeo” makes them think of.

“Potato,” someone decides. “Now, girls,” giggles Rylance, “would you fall in love with a boy called Potato?”

A presenter who speaks freely but in the sort of sentences that can then be cast into solid chunks and used as powerful, off-the-cuff links throughout a programme is rare as a unicorn. When Rylance talks about hoping that children recognise Shakespeare as a “playful friend, rather than someone they are going to meet on a forced march to an exam”, the unpreening lightness of his delivery suggests one, unscripted take. “He wrote for the ears,” the director went on. “It just sounds interesting. His words have body and form.”

I suppose the question is not so much how young you can teach Shakespeare, but how young you can teach any (great) poetry, because children instinctively take to it. For instance, a big-screen adaptation of T S Eliot’s Cats has been announced. In the fantasies of my friend James, this adaptation will feature Channing Tatum as Rum Tum Tugger and Lady Gaga singing “Memory”, and will be produced by the team behind The Incredibles. In short, a poem with children in mind while the adults sit there thinking: “What the f*** is this? There’s no plot at all!”

Instead, the upcoming Cats will be directed by the sombre Tom Hooper, doubtless brought in to “study” the text. Give me Rylance’s six-year-olds any day, imagining what things Henry V might have noticed the night before the Battle of Agincourt. “Wolves howling,” breathes one. “Bats flapping,” gulps another. Then finally – and this suggestion couldn’t be bettered – just before Henry steps out to claim “. . . I think the king is but a man, as I/am”, he possibly spots “a mouse rolling on his bed”. 

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Fascist vs Opportunist? Don’t underestimate French disgust for their political class

By Will Self from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

The Republic may well be secular – yet when the results of the first round came in that evening, many electors must have offered up a prayer in gratitude.

On a Métro heading west from Bonne Nouvelle in the centre of Paris, the Saturday-afternoon travellers were unusually talkative, their querulous tones rising above the clanking coupling. There was only one subject of conversation: the first round of the French presidential election, due to be held the following day. Then there came a stench of soured wine and stale cigarette smoke as a homeless couple worked their way through the compartment, politely soliciting for “a little donation, if you please, ladies and gentlemen . . .” At least one passenger complied and the homeless woman wished him “a good weekend”, before reflecting aloud, “If it’s possible with this election tomorrow. Not that we’re going to know the result: there are no televisions for us homeless people to watch.” Maybe not; but that didn’t stop these particular Parisians from having their own opinions, as her bibulous companion then demonstrated by chiming in: “It’ll be Macron and Le Pen going through to the next round – you’ll see.”

All over Paris the campaign posters had been defaced; Marine Le Pen’s blonde coif customised with devil’s horns, François Fillon’s patrician visage either labelled ­“Voleur!” (“thief”) or proleptically provided with the prison bars many would like to see him behind and captioned: “En prison!” Perhaps the most telling example of what the Situationists called détournement was a poster I saw for François Asselineau, whose slogan “Le candidat du Frexit” had been adapted to read “Le candidat du frottis” (“candidate for the smear test”). Of course, Paris is the city that gave birth to a certain maximally vulgar kind of political satire, but this equation between an independent right-wing candidate without a sorbet’s chance in Hades of going forward to the second round and a potentially infected intimate part seemed an accurate – if obscene – summation of the French electorate’s disgust with the country’s political class.

For the last few weeks of the campaign, at dinner and café tables, on Métros and in offices, the French had been bemoaning their lot. In 2002 the second round ended up being a run-off between Jacques Chirac (“the crook”) and Marine Le Pen’s wayward father, Jean-Marie (“the fascist”); but one Parisian friend described the front-running candidates for Sunday’s vote to me as the Fascist, the Communist, the ­Corruptionist and the Opportunist. Commentators from across the Channel persist in viewing what is happening in France through our own constitutional lens – and in some ways, the sovereigntist position of Le Pen’s Front National can be equated with the hazy monarchical reveries of right-wing Tories and quondam Ukippers: all of them seeing a brave old world arise from the ashes of the second great wave of globalisation.

But while evidence of the United Kingdom’s fissiparous condition lies in a moulting Celtic fringe, the centralised and ideologically monolithic nature of the French state is such that rapid political change usually results in radical découpage. The British media’s other inclination is to equate this election with our Brexit referendum; but the sense of discombobulation which accompanied that vote has already been made real in France, where the institutional embedding of the main political parties was never as secure to begin with, and their support has been ebbing away for decades.

No, the problem with the first round was that if the opinion polls could be believed, the front-runners were representative of current French political passions – or, rather, lack of them. Because, when it came to which bulletin they were going to choose in the bureau de vote, faute de mieux was the guiding principle for almost everyone I spoke to. And surely that little peculiarity of French electoral practice is as indicative of the national character as any irredentism. Rather than put a mark next to the name of their preferred candidate, French voters take slips of paper with the individual names pre-printed on them, together with an envelope, then repair to the voting booth, where making their selection in effect consists of sending a very short billet-doux to Marianne, or la Patrie. It’s as if – like a nation of latter-day Lacloses – they were enacting a mass political version of an epistolary novel, their liaisons dangereuses being with destiny itself.

Not that anything appeared that dramatic on Sunday morning at Bureau de Vote Numéro 33 in the tenth arrondissement. This is a working-class area of Paris with a substantial Turkish immigrant population, but in the past couple of decades, in common with all other big western European cities, it has slowly submerged in a rising tide of frothy coffee – an inundation unfelt by the still more recent migrants who sleep rough
on the streets surrounding the Gare du Nord and who, on cold mornings last winter, actually lit fires on the pavement to keep warm.

While my friend went in to vote, I loitered outside. Exit polls are not allowed and the count begins when the first bulletin is posted, so results can often be announced extremely quickly, giving even the most tawdry choice a certain éclat. I scanned posters pinned up in the vestibule; most of the time Bureau Numéro 33 is a nursery school and it seems that even very small children need to be reminded of the values of the state: one was a Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, the other a stentorian reminder that “la République est laïque”. The Republic may well be secular – yet when the results of the first round came in that evening, many electors must have offered up a prayer in gratitude: the run-off would be between the Fascist and the Opportunist, rather than the Communist or the Corruptionist. As for the real candidate for a smear test – that remains the entire French body politic and not just François Asselineau, who gained a mere 0.9 per cent of the popular vote. 

Macron and Le Pen. Photo: Getty

Five of Scotland’s most exciting general election battles

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

Will unionists hook the big Salmond in Gordon? And can the Tories overrun the Scottish Borders? Everything's up for grabs. 

In 2015, the Scottish National Party won Scotland in a landslide. With the next election expected in 2020, politics for the next five years looked homogenous, managerial and predictable. 

But then came Brexit, talk of a second independence referendum, and an early election. Now everything's at play. Depending on your perspective, this is a proxy indyref2, or a chance to condemn the Brexit government, or the opporunity to turn Scotland blue. One thing is sure - local contests will not just be about collecting the bins on time, but about the great constitutional questions of the day. With a giant splash of egotism. 

Here is my pick of the constituency battles to watch:

1. Who’s the biggest unionist of them all?

Constituency: East Renfrewshire
Battle to watch: Blair McDougall (Labour) vs Paul Masterton (Tory)

If anything symbolised the #Indyreffightback, it was the toppling of Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire in 2015. Murphy had slogged away for the No campaign during the 2014 referendum, braving egg throwers and cybernat centurions to make the case for the UK in 100 towns across Scotland. Being ousted by the Scottish National Party’s Kirsten Oswald was the biggest metaphorical egg of them all. 

Still, Murphy only lost by 3,718 votes. The self-styled defenders of the union, the Scottish Tories, have spied an opportunity, and made East Renfrewshire a target seat. Paul Masterton, a local activist, hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jackson Carlaw, who snapped up the same area for the Tories in the Scottish parliamentary elections last year. 

But who’s that appearing on the horizon? Blair McDougall, the former Better Together chief, is waving Labour’s banner. And no one can accuse him of flip flopping on the independence question. 

Since quashing a second independence referendum is the priority for pro-union voters of East Renfrewshire choose, they are likely to vote tactically. So which candidate can persuade them  he’s the winner?

2. The best shade of yellow

Constituency: East Dunbartonshire
Battle: Jo Swinson (Lib Dem) vs John Nicolson (SNP)

When Jo Swinson first won her home constituency in 2005, she was just 25, and by her early thirties, she was pacing the inner sanctums of the Coalition government. But in 2015, East Dunbartonshire voters decided to give her an early retirement and opted for the former broadcaster, the SNP’s John Nicolson, instead by 2,167 votes. 

In England, the Lib Dem surge has been fuelled by an emotional Europeanism. Swinson, though, can sing “Ode to Joy” as many times as she wants – it won’t change the fact that Nicolson is also against Brexit. He has also been an influential front bencher in what is often called "the real opposition" of SNP MPs at Westminster, and worked to encourage investment in BBC Scotland and attempted to get gay men convicted under anti-homosexuality laws retrospectively pardoned (Tory MPs "talked out the bill"). 

So instead, the contest is likely to come down to two factors. One is the characters involved. Nicolson has used his media clout to raise his profile – but has also been accused of “bullying” STV into dropping its political editor Stephen Daisley (Nicolson denies the claims)

The other is the independence referendum. East Dunbartonshire voted 61.2 per cent to stay in the UK in 2014. If voters feel the same way, and vote tactically this time, Nicolson may wish to resurrect his TV career. 

3. Revenge of the Tories

Constituency: Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Battle: John Lamont (Tory) vs Calum Kerr (SNP)

And the winner is… anyone who can reel off this constituency name without twisting their tongue. Let’s call it BRK, or Project Blue. 

BRK, a rural constituency in the Scottish borders, was once a comfortable home for the Liberal Democrat Michael Moore. He was driven out in 2015 by the SNP’s Calum Kerr. Indeed, such was the political turmoil that Moore slumped to third place. Kerr’s biggest rival was the conservative John Lamont. 

Two years later, the electoral horns are sounding, and Lamont is so confident of his victory that he is standing down as an MSP. There were just 328 votes between him and Kerr last time round. So who will be the new ruler of BRK?

4. Labour’s last stand

Constituency: Edinburgh South
Battle: Ian Murray (Labour) vs everyone else

When Ian Murray first won Edinburgh South for Labour in 2010, he might have been in his early thirties, but he was surrounded by Labour heavyweights like Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy. Five years later, after a catastrophic election night, he was the only Labour MP left in Scotland. 

Murray’s survival is down partly to his seat – a leafy, academic constituency that epitomises Edinburgh’s pro-union, pro-Remain vote – and his no-nonsense opinion on both these issues (he’s no fan of Jeremy Corbyn either). A similarly-minded Labour candidate, Daniel Johnson, won the overlapping Scottish parliamentary constituency in 2016.

Now, though, Murray is fighting a defensive battle on two fronts. The SNP came second in 2015, and will likely field a candidate again. But those with longer memories know that Edinburgh South was once a Tory realm. Stephanie Smith, who is also standing for local elections, will be trying to take a bite out of Murray’s pro-union vote. 

Still, Murray has a good chance of outlasting the siege. As one Labour activist put it: “I think I’ll be spending the next six weeks camping out in Edinburgh South.” 

5. The big fish in the pond

Constituency: Gordon
Battle: Alex Salmond (SNP) vs Colin Clark (Tory)

Freed from the chains of high office, Alex Salmond is increasingly in touch with his inner charismatic bully. When not trying to wind up Anna Soubry, he is talking up a second independence referendum at inconvenient moments and baiting the Brexiteers. This is the big fish the pro-union movement would love to catch. 

But can they do it? Salmond won the seat in 2015 from the Liberal Democrats with a majority of 8,687 votes. Taking on this whopper is Colin Clark, a humble Tory councillor, and he knows what he’s up against.  He called for every unionist to back him, adding: “I have been in training since 2015 and I am fit and ready to win this seat in June.”

To get a sense of how much the Scottish referendum has changed politics, consider the fact that Labour activists are ludicrously excited by this prospect. But however slippery he may be, the SNP goliath in person can win over even devout unionists.  I’m not betting on a hooked Salmond any time soon. 

 

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Spain sees unemployment edge up in first quarter

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Concerns over short duration of work contracts and job rotation

A diplomatic passport answer to EU citizens’ Brexit impasse

From Europe News. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Resolve the status of 3m Europeans in the UK by making them Brits

America First? Not So Fast! What We’ve Learned from 100 Days of Trump Foreign Policy

By Trevor Thrall and John Glaser from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

After President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office, a “Trump doctrine” has yet to emerge fully, but one important lesson is already clear: making radical changes in American foreign policy is very difficult. Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 election portended a dramatic break with the traditional approach to American foreign policy. Since World ...

The Brenda agenda: Britons are already tiring of the election

By from European Union. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Main image:  BRENDA from Bristol spoke for many when she learned that there would be a snap general election on June 8th. “You’re joking?” she said to a BBC reporter. “Not another one. Oh, for God’s sake, I can’t stand this.” There was a general election in 2015, and the brutal EU referendum campaign in 2016. Now the battle buses are revving up once again. Talk to Britons around the country and plenty are fed up with all the politicking. According to data on Google searches, Britons’ interest in the election has been trending down for the past few days. The true national mood is hard to measure, but in the daily newspapers the election is much less of an issue than you might think. In Tuesday’s edition of the right-wing Daily Mail, the first election story did not appear until page 12 (stories on misshapen asparagus and the contents of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s bathroom cabinet were more pressing issues). Today marks the sixth consecutive issue where the Mail has not put the election as its main story. Today’s Financial Times splashes on the tax cuts announced in America last night. Friday’s and Monday’s editions led on other matters. On Friday the Sun published perhaps the best anti-election article: “the Brenda Agenda”, a “cut-out election-free guide for the next 49 days”. It helpfully ...

Much Ado About Montenegro

By Ben Denison and Matthew Fay from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Efforts to expand NATO have never lacked for controversy, and a recent debate in the U.S. Senate was particularly acrimonious with regard to Montenegro’s bid to join the alliance. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to Montenegro’s accession. He was followed by a fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain (AZ), ...

Are We Having Too Much Fun?

By Megan Garber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 28, 2017.

Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”    

There was a time when irony was supposed to have died—when Americans, frightened and weary, worried that the world had robbed them of their constitutional right to laughter. They needn’t have fretted: Irony—satire—political discourse that operates through the productive hedge of the joke—have not only evaded death in past decades; they have, instead, been enjoying a renaissance. Jokes have informed many prominent, though certainly not all, political protests; they have also, more broadly, come to shape the way people understand the world around them. Many Americans get their news filtered through late-night comedy and their outrages filtered through Saturday Night Live. They—we—turn to memes to express both indignation and joy. Jokes, in other words, with their charms and their appealing self-effacement and their plausible deniability (just kidding!), are helping people to do the messy work of democracy: to engage, to argue, and, every once in a while, to launch a successful bid for the presidency of the United States.

Scrolling through Instagram to see the pictures from the March for Science, I marveled at the protest’s display of teasing American wit. (“Remember polio? No? Thanks, science!”) And then I thought of Neil Postman, the professor and the critic and the man who, via his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, argued preemptively against all this change-via-chuckle. Postman wasn’t, as his book’s title might suggest, a humorless scold in the classic way—Amusing Ourselves to Death is, as polemics go, darkly funny—but he was deeply suspicious of jokes themselves, especially when they come with an agenda.

Postman died in 2003; were he still with us, though, he would likely be both horrified and unsurprised to see protesters fighting for the fate of the planet with the help of a punnified Labrador—or, for that matter, to see the case for women’s inalienable rights being made by people dressed as plush vulvas. He might whisper that, in politics, the line between engagement and apathy is thinner than we want to believe. He might suggest that fun is fun, definitely, but, given its amorality, a pretty awkward ethic. He might warn, with a Cassandric sigh, that there is something delightful and also not very delightful at all about a trio of Tyrannosauri who, in the name of saving the world, try their hardest to go viral on Facebook.

Postman today is best remembered as a critic of television: That’s the medium he directly blamed, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, for what he termed Americans’ “vast descent into triviality,” and the technology he saw as both the cause and the outcome of a culture that privileged entertainment above all else. But Postman was a critic of more than TV alone. He mistrusted entertainment, not as a situation but as a political tool; he worried that Americans’ great capacity for distraction had compromised their ability to think, and to want, for themselves. He resented the tyranny of the lol. His great observation, and his great warning, was a newly relevant kind of bummer: There are dangers that can come with having too much fun.

* * *

In 1984, Americans took a look around at the world they had created for themselves and breathed a collective sigh of relief. The year George Orwell had appointed as the locus of his dark and only lightly fictionalized predictions—war, governmental manipulation, surveillance not just of actions, but of thoughts themselves—had brought with it, in reality, only the gentlest of dystopias. Sure, there was corporatism. Sure, there was communism. And yet, for most of the Americans living through that heady decade, 1984 had not, for all practical purposes, become Nineteen Eighty-Four. They surveyed themselves, and they congratulated themselves: They had escaped.

Or perhaps they hadn’t. Postman opened Amusing Ourselves to Death with a nod to the year that had preceded it. He talked about the freedoms enjoyed by the Americans of 1984—cultural, commercial, political. And then he broke the bad news: They’d been measuring themselves according to the wrong dystopia. It wasn’t Nineteen Eighty-Four that had the most to say about the America of the 1980s, but rather Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. “In Huxley’s vision,” Postman noted, “no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history.” Instead: “People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

The vehicle of their oppression, in this case? Yep, the television. Which had, Postman argued, thoroughly insinuated itself on all elements of American life—and not just in the boob-tubed, couch-potatoed, the-average-American-watches-five-hours-of-television-a-day kind of way that is so familiar in anti-TV invectives, but in a way that was decidedly more intimate. Postman was a media theorist above all, and Amusing Ourselves to Death owes debts, he acknowledges, to Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong and Daniel Boorstin and Elizabeth Eisenstein and Karl Marx and Lewis Mumford and the general notion that we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us. Mumford’s theories of clocks, Ong’s theories of speech, McLuhan’s theories of everything—there they all are, making an appearance in this argument about the civic threats of laughter. Postman would wind his warnings about the dystopian dangers of television around his own adaptation of McLuhan’s aphorism: The medium, he suggested, is not simply the message—it isn’t straightforward or self-aware enough for that. The medium, instead, is the metaphor.

And the metaphorical nature of television, Postman argued, has meant that TV and its very particular logic—its assumptions, its aesthetics, its image-oriented and episodic understanding of the world—have found their way into other areas of American cultural life. Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death early in the presidency of Ronald Reagan (the former actor, he pointed out, had won a second term in a field that included another celebrity, the former astronaut John Glenn); he wrote long after Richard Nixon had made that tentative, awkward appearance on Laugh-In (“sock it to meeeee”), and slightly before a relatively obscure governor of Arkansas would prove his ability to lead the most powerful nation in the world by playing the sax on The Arsenio Hall Show. He wrote during the time when it was the newly standard practice for national politicians like George McGovern and Jesse Jackson to both prove and amplify their popularity by hosting Saturday Night Live.

Postman was writing, that is, just as the amusement impulse was bleeding into nearly every area of American politics, bringing both irony and redundancy to the term “political theater.” Gazing upon it all, he was decidedly unamused. He thought all the dramedies were missing the point. He thought they compromised the other things Americans should value in their civics and in their culture: wisdom, principle, meaning. He pointed to the professors in college classes who were considered good teachers only if they could effectively entertain their students. He pointed to the televangelists of the time who brought an infomercial feel to the experience of faith. He pointed to presidential debates people watched not just to hear policy proposals, but to see great performances. “We may have reached the point,” Postman remarked, “where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control.”

If the Americans of 1985 had indeed reached that point, and if the Americans of 2017 have surpassed them in the achievement, then it’s been a long time, Postman suggested, in the making. To understand the American culture of the moment, Postman thought, you have to go back, beyond the television and the radio and the newspaper, to the telegraph. The buzzing electrical wires laid loosely over the nation in the 19th century—the network that first gave rise to the extremely postmodernist notion of information freed of its context—was in Postman’s telling the harbinger and the ancestor of the American media of the 1980s. For Postman, the answer to the first message ever sent through telegraphic wires—the epic and ominous “what hath God wrought”—included CNN and Star Search and actors-turned-leaders and, if you project out just a little bit, Squawk on the Street and Fox & Friends and diplomacy-via-tweet and a presidential press secretary who may spread untruths from the highest podium in the land, but whose briefings are also the textbook definition of good TV, right down to the surprise cameos.

The telegraph, Postman argued, produced news and information that was, for the first time, detached from the rhythms of people’s daily lives. Because of the telegraph, someone in Baltimore could read about a scandal in New York, almost as soon as it had done its scandalizing. Because of the telegraph, headlines—sensational, fragmented, impersonal—became the defining element of American media production. Because of the telegraph, news became instant and easy. “Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives,” Postman wrote, “now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use.” The telegraph, for the first time, “made relevance irrelevant.”

And it influenced American media, on the whole, to continue in that pattern. The telegraph gave rise to yellow journalism, which found newspapers competing for audience attention not so much via the information they shared, but via the entertainments they offered. It created a media environment that abandoned sustained narrative for more episodic delights—a condition, Postman put it, in which “facts push other facts into and out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.” Most of all, it gave rise to the biases that still inform our mass media today, creating, he argued, “a world full of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

If it sounds familiar, it’s because, as Postman would have it, we are still operating in the paradigm created by the telegraph—one that is extremely good at creating in-the-moment diversions and extremely less good at instilling in its consumers a sense of continuity, meaning, and wisdom. It’s no wonder, in Postman’s reading, that, today, “fake news” has thrived, that “alternative facts” has become a thing, that so many Americans both absorb and express political opinions via memes. It’s no wonder that Malcolm Gladwell would produce an argument against contemporary American satire that would point to jokes as the masses’ new opiate. It’s no wonder, too, that some of the favorite entertainments of those masses involve a fictional genre that goes by the name of “reality.”

Postman was a postmodernist who was uniquely suspicious of postmodern thought, and he worried, as Daniel Boorstin had before him, that our images had come unmoored from our fuller realities—and that people, being tied to them, were similarly adrift. He saw a world in which Americans were made pliant and complacent because of their cravings for distraction. He knew that despots often used amusement to soften and systematize their seizings of power. He worried that television—an environment where facts and fictions swirl in the same space, cheerfully disconnected from the world’s real and hard truths—would beget a world in which truth itself was destabilized. “In a print culture,” he argued, “writers make mistakes when they lie, contradict themselves, fail to support their generalizations, try to enforce illogical connections. In a print culture, readers make mistakes when they don’t notice, or even worse, don’t care.”

In a television culture, he argued, the opposite is true.

Postman romanticized—really, he over-romanticized—print as a paradigm. He celebrated the literacy and erudition of the early American 19th century without paying much attention to the many, many people who were excluded from the era’s notion of politics. And he had very little to say about the plain counterargument to Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is that entertainment, engaging people as it does, can be extremely democratic. Americans have long leveraged the power of the lol to effect political change (see the humor that pulses through Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, or, slightly more recently, the suffragette Alice Duer Miller’s 1915 book of satirical poetry, tellingly titled Are Women People?). Politically weaponized dinosaurs may be distinct creations of this supremely bizarre political moment; they are also, however, distinctly American.

Still, Postman understood what might come, because he understood what had been. He saw the systems of things. In one way he couldn’t have imagined the world of 2017, one in which television, still, defines so much of American life. He couldn’t have anticipated Samantha Bee or John Oliver or Seth Meyers or Stephen Colbert—he couldn’t have known how comedians would come to double, in a culture saturated with information, as journalists. He couldn’t have known that celebrities would be regularly asked to weigh in on the political conversations of the day, or that they would be excoriated for refusing to engage in those discussions. He would have laughed, probably, if he’d heard that the reality TV star who is president has promised not to fire his error-prone press secretary because “that guy gets great ratings.”

He wouldn’t, however, have been terribly surprised. Earlier this month, as President Trump launched a military strike against Syria and its leader’s crimes against humanity, Brian Williams anchored MSNBC’s coverage of the attack, narrating as footage showed U.S. missiles streaking like unsteady stars across the blank night sky. “We see these beautiful pictures,” Williams said, seeming to forget, caught as he was in the moment, the people on the other end—people for whom the bombs would be so much more than mere images. Williams quoted Leonard Cohen. He talked, with wonder, about being “guided by the beauty of our weapons.” He repeated once more: “They are beautiful pictures.”

Neil Postman couldn’t have known. But, in another way, he knew.

Preventing Veteran Suicide

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

Testimony presented before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies on April 27, 2017.

Digital Resources for STEM Educators and Recommendations for Cyberlearning Initiatives

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

This evaluation of the National Science Digital Library/Distributed Learning (NSDL) program assessed the sustainability of NSDL resources, tools, and services over time and across the changing technology landscape.

The problem with Theresa May's Brexit message is that it isn't true

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

By refusing to come clean with the public, Theresa May is storing up Blair levels of disillusionment for the future.

You can get an idea of how low-wattage the election is so far from the amount of attention being paid to Boris Johnson, who has returned to the scene, not to talk about the ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea, but to call Jeremy Corbyn a "mutton-headed mugwump" in a column for the Sun

It's the classic Johnson gambit - a colourful way of appearing to be off-message while reinforcing the central message of the Conservative campaign: that this is an election about Brexit, and that the bigger the majority, the greater the chances that Britain will get a good Brexit deal.

It has the added benefit of punching Labour's biggest bruise: the thumping lead that Theresa May enjoys over Jeremy Corbyn as Britain's preferred Prime Minister. IpsosMori, Britain's oldest pollster, have a poll that sums up the scale of May's advantage: she's currently the most popular PM we've had since IpsosMori started polling: more popular than even than Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair at the peak of their powers. "Poll: May most popular leader in FORTY years" is the Metro's splash. And all of the evidence suggests that it is working, with the Tory lead extending since the election was called.

There's just one small problem, really: May's message isn't true. EU leaders feel the same way about other people's elections as most people do about other people's pets or children: they'll try to accommodate them, sure. But ultimately, they take a distant back seat to their own. There is not a Brexit dividend to be unlocked simply through getting a bigger Conservative majority. Whether May's majority is one, ten or 100, she will face the same trade-offs and the same partners with the same incentives.

There is a bit of excitement this morning about the fact that the Times/YouGov tracker shows that more people (45%) say that Brexit is not working than say it is working (42%). The truth is that the margin of error in all polls is plus or minus three, so that shouldn't be seen as anything more than noise. Every other poll and focus group shows that the bulk of people still have sky-high expectations of Britain's Brexit deal.

Brexit may be a success, but it will involve concessions to our partners in the EU and won't be the cure-all that many people who voted to Leave believe that it will. By refusing to level with the public, May is storing up late-period Blair levels of disillusionment for the future. Not that it matters as far as she is concerned; if the polls are to be believed and I see no reason to disbelieve them, she's headed for a win that means the next time the Opposition could even hope to competitive will be 2027 - by which time she'll be 71 and likely contemplating retirement and the speakers' circuit.

But if you look at everything that's happened to Labour since their promise to have "ended boom and bust", her successors at the top of the Tory party will live to regret her lack of candour.

Getty Images.

The Role of Urban Congregations in Addressing HIV

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

In a series of collaborative studies, RAND researchers sought to better understand urban congregations' capacity for HIV prevention and care, specifically in the areas of stigma reduction and HIV testing. This research brief outlines their findings.

Stress and Dissatisfaction in the Air Force's Remotely Piloted Aircraft Community

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

This report examines stress and dissatisfaction in the U.S. Air Force's remotely piloted aircraft community, as well as ways to mitigate stress and dissatisfaction.

Commons Confidential: Could Corbyn's El Gato kick Larry out of Downing Street?

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

The No 10 cat fight.

A rolling revolt is gathering speed, as the suspicion grows that Theresa May called her snap poll to escape potential by-elections, should the Crown Prosecution Service find that her MPs were involved in electoral fraud during the 2015 campaign.

A growing number of Tory MPs are informing HQ that they don’t want a battle bus visit. Driving the rebellion is the hard-boiled Andrew Bridgen, who made his cash by selling prewashed spuds to supermarkets. “I’m going to post party workers on every route into my constituency,” growled the veg baron, who is defending an 11,373 majority in Leicestershire, “with orders not to let any bloody bus on to our patch.” Here’s an opportunity for Tory command to raise a few bob: flog tyre-bursting spike strips to candidates.

Fur would fly in the unlikely event that Jeremy Corbyn moves into No 10. The more optimistic among his entourage fret over whether the moggy El Gato could cohabit with Larry the Downing Street cat. Corbyn muses that El Gato is a socialist, sharing food with a stray that turned up in his north London garden. If Labour wins, I understand that El Gato is the top cat or Larry is out with May. Jezza’s first call wouldn’t be to Donald Trump or Angela Merkel but to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

George Osborne’s £650,000 BlackRock sinecure is jeopardised, I hear, by his London Evening Standard editorship. An impeccable source whispers that the world’s largest investment fund, controlling £4trn of loot, anguishes over possible conflicts of interest. BlackRock hired Osborne to nurture high-net-worth clients, who are suddenly wary of divulging secrets to an ambitious hack. Perhaps the super-rich should relax. He is incapable of recognising a story, even missing Standard deadlines with his resignation as a Tory MP.

The word is that Ukip’s seven-time loser Nigel Farage declined the chance to risk an eighth loss to retain his £800-per-hour LBC radio gig. The Brexit elites’ Don Farageone needs the money – a chauffeur-driven Range Rover with tinted windows won’t be cheap.

Corbyn’s war on dandelions is on hold during the campaign, with green-fingered comrades tending his allotment. Cherie Blair was accused 20 years ago of mentally measuring up curtains for No 10. Corbyn quipped that he is tempted to measure flower borders to plant runner beans. Labour’s No 10 would certainly be no bed of roses.

What will retiring MPs do? Middlesbrough South’s Tom Blenkinsop informed colleagues that he might join the army. My hunch is that at 36, with a Peaky Blinders haircut, the general secretaryship of the Community trade union is more likely.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

A Review of Alternative Methods to Inventory Contracted Services in the Department of Defense

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

Concerned about U.S. Department of Defense contracts for private-sector services, Congress mandated development of an inventory of contract activities. RAND conducted a review of the system, stakeholder needs, and alternative data sources.

Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

By Bob Marshall-Andrews from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Fewer teachers, more pupils and no more money. Schools are struggling

By Laura McInerney from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

With grammars and universal school meals, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking.

If you ask people in Britain what the ­biggest political issues are, schools don’t make the top five. Yet last week Labour set its first party political broadcast in a fictional classroom where a teacher described Jeremy Corbyn’s plans for schools’ future. Without a Labour government, the teacher opines, there will be no more libraries, or teachers, or school trips. Though the scenario is a flagrant breach of the law – teachers must remain politically impartial – education isn’t a bad place for Labour to start its campaign. Schools really are quite screwed.

Three things are hitting hard. Schools have less money, fewer people want to be teachers, and an avalanche of under-sevens is hitting the playgrounds and won’t stop for several more years.

How did we get here? In 2015 the Conservatives pledged to keep school funding at the same rate per pupil over the lifetime of the parliament. Yet while the money coming in has remained flat, schools have faced huge hikes in costs, particularly staffing. Big increases in mandatory pension contributions and National Insurance have taken their toll; so has the apprenticeship levy. The
Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that all told, schools will have lost about 8 per cent of their budget by 2020. That’s £3bn of savings that must be found. Or, more bluntly, the starting salaries of 100,000 teachers.

It is worth remembering at this point how huge the schools sector is and how many people are affected. About half a million teachers work in the 20,000-plus state schools. A further 300,000 people work in allied professions. There are eight million children and an estimated 12 million parents. Lump in their grandparents, and it’s fair to say that about 20 million voters are affected by schools in one way or another.

The budget squeeze is leading many of these schools to drastic measures: firing teachers, increasing class sizes, cutting music from the curriculum, charging parents for their child’s place on a sports team, dropping transport provision, and so on. Begging letters to parents for donations have become commonplace; some have asked for contributions of up to £60 a month.

On top of money worries, teachers are abandoning the profession. In 2015, an additional 18,000 went to work in international schools – more than were trained at universities over the same year. They joined the 80,000 teachers already working in British schools abroad, attracted by higher pay and better working conditions.

Graduates are also snubbing teaching. With starting salaries increasing at less than 1 per cent a year since 2010, new teachers are now paid about 20 per cent less than the average graduate trainee. Changes to higher education are also such that trainees must now pay £9,000 in order to gain their teaching qualification through a university. The government has missed its target for teacher trainees for five years now, and there is no coherent plan for hitting it.

No money and no teachers is less of a problem if you are in a demographic dip. We had a bizarrely low birth rate at the turn of the century, so we currently have a historically small proportion of teens. Unfortunately, the generation just behind them, of seven-year-olds and under, is enormous. Why? Because the “baby echoers”, born in the 1970s to the baby boomers, had children a bit later than their parents. Add to that the children recently born to immigrants who arrived in their twenties when the European Union expanded in the early 2000s, and Britain is facing an El Niño of toddlers. By 2025 a million extra children will be in the school system than in 2010.

To keep on top of the boom the government has been creating schools like a Tasmanian devil playing Minecraft. But 175,000 more places will be needed in the next three years. That’s the equivalent of one new secondary school per week from now until 2020.

In fairness, the government and councils have put aside money for additional buildings, and roughly the same number of parents are getting their first-choice school as before. The free schools policy, which delivers new schools, has not always been well managed, but it is now more efficient and targeted. However, many more children combined with squeezed budgets and fewer teachers typically leads to bigger class sizes. Most classrooms were built to house 30 pupils. Exam results may not get worse, but no parent wants their child working on a makeshift desk improvised out of a windowsill.

Instead of addressing these challenges, both main parties have decided to answer policy questions no one is asking. Theresa May wants more grammar schools, ostensibly because they will give more choice to parents – though these are the only schools that pick pupils, as opposed to the other way around. And she says they will aid social mobility, though all the evidence (and I really do mean all) suggests the opposite.

Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, is offering free lunches to all seven-to-11-year-olds, which sounds worthy until you realise that children from low-income families already get free lunch, and that feeding every child a hot sit-down meal is virtually impossible, given the limited space and kitchen facilities in most schools. Plus, the evidence this £1bn policy would make any significant difference
to health or attainment is pretty sketchy. Labour has also sensibly talked about cash and promised to “fully fund” schools, but it isn’t clear what that means.

What’s missing so far from the Conservatives and Labour alike is a set of policies about teacher recruitment or place planning. The sector needs to know how schools will be built, and where the teachers will come from for the extra kids. In other words, the message to both sides is – must try harder.

Laura McInerney is the editor of Schools Week and a former teacher

A protest in 2016. Getty

The NS leader: Cold Britannia

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

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Understanding value in health data ecosystems

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

The potential of health data to improve health R&D, innovation, healthcare delivery, and health systems is substantial. Realising the benefits of health data will require a supportive health data ecosystem and addressing associated challenges.

Preparing North Korean Elites for Unification

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

For years, the Republic of Korea (also known as South Korea) has pursued a policy of peaceful reunification with North Korea. This report examines what could be done to convince North Korean elites that unification would be good for them.

The World Next Week: April 26, 2017

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Russia, U.S. President Donald J. Trump marks one hundred days in office, and the UN observes World Press Freedom Day.

Is Labour really as doomed as it seems? The polls have got it wrong before

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

Pollsters often overrate Labour's performance. But in two elections, the opposite happened. 

Few moments in the Labour Party’s history can have felt as gloomy as this one. Going into a general election that almost no-one expects them to win, their overall opinion polling is appalling. Labour seems becalmed in the mid-20s; the Conservative Party has rocketed into the mid- to high-40s, and has even touched 50 per cent in one survey.

The numbers underlying those voting intention figures seem, if anything, worse. The Conservatives have huge leads on leadership and economic competence – often even more reliable indicators of election results than the headline numbers. High turnout groups such as the over-65s have turned against Labour in unprecedented numbers. Working-class Brits have swung towards the Conservative, placing once-safe Labour seats in danger. There are limited, but highly suggestive, hints among the data that the swing against Labour is higher in its own marginal seats – a potentially toxic development for any party seeking to hang on to MPs, as Conservatives defending apparently impregnable majorities under John Major in 1997 would attest.

All the while, Labour seems confused about what it is really for. Try as he might, Keir Starmer’s term as Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary has been marred by a fatal confusion and indecision about the extent of the UK’s future engagement with the European Union’s single market. Labour seems neither the party of Brexit nor of Remain, but one determined to irritate as many voters as possible. A similar situation reigns in Scotland, where nationalists under Nicola Sturgeon face Conservative Unionists led by Ruth Davidson, and Labour struggles even to gain a hearing.

Many Labour policy offers – free primary school meals for all, the promise of free university tuition, nationalising the railways, upholding the triple lock of pensions, opposing National Insurance rises for the self-employed – are pleasingly universal, while in isolation appealing to different electoral groups. But together, they represent a massive shift of resources to higher-income Brits that would take huge tax rises to offset. Labour is dangerously close to offering a regressive package under the guise of left-wing radicalism. This is pretty much as far from the British people’s electoral sweet spot as it is possible to imagine.

It is therefore little wonder that Labour lags so far behind Theresa May’s Conservatives. Even some Labour strongholds appear likely to fall - regional polls from London and Wales suggest that many Labour seats will be lost in the party’s remaining citadels. Brutal stories are already coming in from the campaign trail. Rumours fly of truly epochal losses - though it is important to note that other anecdotes seem much less dramatic.

Still, there are other indicators – all too easily missed in the heat of the moment – that point in the other direction. Labour’s performance in local by-elections has been dire for the main opposition party, but the swing towards the Conservatives has been running at "only" just over 2 per cent. The party has certainly suffered some big swings against it, and it has lost wards to the Conservatives in local authorities as varied as Hertfordshire, Harrow and Middlesborough. But there is no evidence that its vote has collapsed on the scale that some of the polling suggests.

Relatively recent history should also give us pause before we write Labour off altogether. Consider the last two general elections in which Labour had near-death experiences, in both 1983 and 2010. Britain’s third party - first the Liberal-SDP Alliance, and then the Liberal Democrats - seemed about to overtake Labour in the popular vote, and steal scores of seats from the bigger progressive party. On both occasions, Labour was able to draw on hitherto unguessed-at wells of cultural identity and strength to pull away right at the campaign’s end. These are in fact the only elections in recent times when the polls have underrated, rather than overestimated, Labour’s likely score. It might be that the same phenomenon emerges this time.

The Conservatives’ huge lead right now has not resulted from a sudden collapse in Labour support, but rather from the United Kingdom Independence Party’s well-publicised implosion. If anything, after about a year of steady decline, the last week or two has seen Labour’s twelve months of slow deflation grind to a halt. Labour’s numbers have even ticked up a point or two as some voters appear to rally around "their" flag. It might be that, as you squeeze the Labour vote down, it becomes more resilient to further shrinkage.

As the Conservatives try to push into Labour’s heartlands, they might find it harder and harder to persuade voters across, from Ukip as well as from Labour. The Conservatives’ image is still far from good in such communities, whatever the underanalysed and separate appeal of PM May as a strong, considered leader in need of a negotiator’s mandate in Europe. Voters might be attracted to May, and repelled by Corbyn - that does not necessarily mean that they will actually vote Conservative. There is little evidence, so far, of any realignment in how voters see themselves – whether they "are" Labour or Conservative, rather than the more ephemeral question of whether they will simply vote for those parties.

Humans always look for patterns. Experts are no exception, while journalists and commentators can always jump to rapid – but wrong – conclusions in the overexcited heat of an election campaign. So it is with the threat of a Labour catastrophe on 8 June. The danger of just such a result is definitely there. But some of the data points we already have, and two recent elections at which Labour walked close to an abyss, cast a little bit of doubt on the inevitability of such an outcome. There are still just over six weeks to go. A Conservative landslide is still quite likely. But it is not certain. We should keep an eye out for the many hints that May’s gamble might end in a rather less crushing victory than we have been led to expect.

Glen O’Hara is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University. He blogs, in a personal capacity, at Public Policy and the Past. He is the author of a series of books about modern Britain, including The Politics of Water in Post-War Britain (Palgrave Macmillan: forthcoming, May 2017).

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Juncker and Barnier in Number 10 Brexit talks

From Europe News. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

May seeks low-key negotiation while EU wants more transparent approach

Hutchins Roundup: Credit booms, community college students, and more

By Anna Malinovskaya, David Wessel from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that credit growth just before a recession is a better predictor of the recession’s severity than the level of indebtedness, salary is not the most important determinant of college majors for community college students in California, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign…
      
 
 

Preserving Biodiversity to Feed the World

By Erica Moriarty from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

In the last century, 94% of the world’s seed varieties have disappeared. Family farmsteads have given way to mechanized agribusinesses to sow genetically identical crops on a massive scale. In an era of climate uncertainty and immense corporate power, farmers, scientists, lawyers, and indigenous seed keepers are on a mission to defend the future of food. Botanical explorer Joseph Simcox has been to over 100 countries, collecting thousands of seeds. In this documentary from Independent Lens, he travels to the Peruvian Amazon. “My seeds are my kitchen table,” says Simcox. “My seeds are my way of sharing food with people all over the world.”

This film is an excerpt from the feature-length documentary SEED: The Untold Story, which explores the hidden fabric of our food and the people that painstakingly and meticulously curate its diversity. SEED was produced, directed and edited by Taggart Siegel and Jon Betz of Collective Eye Films. The film will be streaming for free on the PBS website until May 1, 2017.

Two referendums have revived the Tories and undone Labour

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The Scottish vote enabled the Conservatives' rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted Theresa May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

In the final week of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, as the Union appeared in peril, David Cameron pleaded with voters to punish his party rather than Scotland. “If you are fed up with the effing Tories, give them a kick,” he said. Cameron’s language reflected a settled view: the Conservatives were irredeemably loathed by Scots. For nearly two decades, the party had no more than one MP north of the border. Changing the party’s name for devolved contests was discussed.

Since becoming Conservative leader, Theresa May has pursued a hard – she prefers “clean” – Brexit strategy that Scots voted against and the Conservatives have achieved a UK-wide poll lead of 20 points.

Yet rather than regressing, the Scottish Conservatives have resurged. On 22 April, a Panelbase poll put them on 33 per cent in Scotland (a rise of 18 points since 2015). A favoured Labour barb used to be that there were more pandas (two) in Scotland than Tory MPs (one). The poll would leave the Tories with 12 seats and Corbyn’s party with none. Tory aides confess that they were surprised by the figures but declare there are “no limits to our ambitions” in Scotland.

The roots of this recovery lie in the 2014 independence referendum. The vote, and the SNP’s subsequent landslide victory in the 2015 general election, realigned Scottish politics along unionist and nationalist lines. Led by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives have ably exploited the opportunity. “We said No. We meant it,” the party’s official slogan declares of Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum. Under Ruth Davidson, the Tories have already become the official opposition at Holyrood.

Labour is torn between retaining unionists and winning back nationalists. It has been punished for its equivocation, as it is being punished over its confused response to Brexit. In April 2016, the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, said that it was “not inconceivable” that she could back independence if the UK voted to leave the EU (and earlier suggested that MPs and MSPs could be given a free vote). Jeremy Corbyn recently stated that he was “absolutely fine” with a second referendum being held.

“For us it’s a badge of honour but there are some people in Scottish Labour who are quite queasy about that word [unionist] and I think Jeremy Corbyn would be very queasy about it,” Adam Tomkins, a Conservative MSP for Glasgow and public law professor, told me. “Don’t forget the Northern Ireland dimension; we’ve all seen the photos of him rubbing shoulders with leading republicans. The Scottish Union is very different to the Irish Union but the word migrates.”

The irony is that Corbyn allies believed his anti-austerity, anti-Trident platform would allow Labour to recover in Scotland. Yet the pre-eminence of the national question has left it in a political no-man’s land.

In contrast to the rest of the UK, Scots backed Remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Far from protecting EU membership, as David Cameron had promised in the referendum campaign, the preservation of the Union now threatened it. Theresa May has since yielded no ground, denying Scotland both a second independence referendum on terms dictated by the SNP and single market membership. But polls show no rise in support for independence.

Conservative aides believe that Sturgeon miscalculated by immediately raising the prospect of a second referendum following the Leave vote last June. Families and communities were riven by the 2014 contest. Most had little desire to disrupt the uneasy peace that has prevailed since.

Nor are the politics of Brexit as uncomplicated as some assume. Thirty-six per cent of SNP supporters voted Leave and more than a third of this bloc have since turned against independence. As elsewhere, some Remainers have accepted the result and fear the instability that secession would cause. Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as that with the EU. Davidson, who was one of the most forceful advocates for Remain, says that pursuing independence to counter the effects of Brexit would be “stubbing your toe to then amputate your foot”.

Theresa May, who spoke of the “precious” Union when she became Prime Minister, has devoted great attention to Scotland. Cabinet ministers are instructed to develop a “Scottish plan” when they formulate policy; buildings funded by the UK government now bear its insignia. Davidson’s influence was crucial to May’s decision to retain the 0.7 per cent foreign aid commitment – an emblem of compassionate conservatism.

After a decade of SNP rule, Tory aides believe that their rival’s poor domestic record, most notably on education, is “catching up with them”. More than a year has elapsed since the Scottish Parliament passed new legislation. “We’ve got a government that simply isn’t very interested in governing,” Tomkins said. “I thought that Nicola [Sturgeon] would change that. I was wrong.” What preoccupies the SNP is the constitutional question.

Shortly after the remarkable Scottish polls, a new survey showed the Tories on course to win the most seats in Wales for the first time since 1859. For some former Labour supporters, voting Ukip is proving a gateway drug to voting Conservative.

Two referendums have now realigned politics in the Tories’ favour. The Scottish vote enabled their rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

Before the 2015 general election, Labour derided the Tories as a southern English force unworthy of their official name: the Conservative and Unionist Party. Partly through accident and partly through design, May and Davidson are now reclaiming it. 

Getty Images.

Turkey arrests hundreds in post-referendum move

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Council of Europe reintroduces full human rights monitoring of Ankara

Foreign Policy in the First Hundred Days of Trump

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

As President Donald J. Trump approaches his hundredth day in office, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and Foreign Affairs offer resources and analysis on the new administration’s foreign policy.

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By Peter Olson, Louise M. Sheiner from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Americans spend a lot on prescription drugs, more per capita than any other country by far. Pharmaceuticals represent a significant—and growing—share of the country’s health spending, both because new, and often costly, drugs are emerging from the lab and because prices of many drugs are rising much faster than prices of other goods and services.…
      
 
 

Atlanta's Controversial 'Cityhood' Movement

By Sam Rosen from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Apr 27, 2017.

On the Saturday before Election Day last November, Jason Lary, a former insurance executive, crouched on a rough patch of grass at the center of a busy intersection 20 miles outside of Atlanta in DeKalb County. Lary was holding a hammer, and he tapped carefully on the thin wire base of a campaign sign. “My hand is like Fred Flintstone’s right now because I banged my hand in the night,” he said, noting his latest sign-related injury. This hazard, though, was worthwhile: “If you don’t start [the sign] with your hand, it will bend. It takes longer—guys are 10 times faster than I am. But my sign’s still gonna be up.”

This was a non-trivial advantage for Lary, who for the past month had begun most mornings with a kind of ground-game whack-a-mole. He would put up signs under the cover of night, only to have his opponents dislodge them by hand or, when that failed, run over them with their cars. Nevertheless, Lary was feeling good. “My opposition? Worn down,” he told me. “They don’t even have any more signs. And I kept a stash, knowing this time was coming. This is not my first picnic with nonsense.”

Listen to the audio version of this article:Download the Audm app for your iPhone to listen to more titles.

Lary’s opponents were from his own community, folks who were fiercely against turning their stretch of the county into a new city called Stonecrest, Georgia. Lary, the president of the Stonecrest City Alliance, had been working for four years to turn a 50,000-person swath of unincorporated DeKalb County into its own city. If the referendum passed the following week, it would become the latest and most symbolic victory for the “cityhood movement,” a local-government arms race that, for the past decade, has been reshaping the political, economic, and racial landscape of metro Atlanta.

Between 2005 and 2015, eight unincorporated neighborhoods in Georgia’s three largest counties—Fulton, Gwinnett, and DeKalb—voted to form their own cities. In doing so, they rejected the county’s political leadership and withdrew much of their resources from the county’s tax pool. Prior to incorporation, all of these areas were putting more money into the county via taxes than they got back in services. Pulling their money out of the county pool has thus been a boon for these new cities, which can reprioritize and increase services to meet the needs of their more homogeneous constituencies without raising taxes.

For those left behind in unincorporated parts of these counties, however, the cityhood movement has been disastrous. Data on the overall economic impact of the movement doesn’t yet exist, but the withdrawals of wealthy enclaves have left county governments with a recurring and unpleasant choice: raise taxes or provide less. In 2012, Fulton County’s manager calculated that the cityhood movement had cost the county $38 million per year.

These losses have exacerbated racial inequality in an area that was found, in a landmark 2013 study, to be one of the nation’s worst for economic upward mobility. All of these new cities, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in 2015, “have become mostly white islands of safety and affluence. What’s remaining is heavily black [and] less well-off.”

But Lary, his supporters, and his opponents—the folks ripping up his campaign signs—are not the white people at the center of the cityhood movement. Rather, they are a black community: If Lary were to succeed, Stonecrest would become the 15th-largest city in Georgia and the first majority-black city created by its own residents since Reconstruction. Many of Lary’s neighbors and friends couldn’t believe that he was aligning the area with cityhood and employing the strategies of the very people whose political tactics had weakened local black communities for more than a decade. Worse, not only had Lary aligned with the cityhood movement; he had enlisted its most famous advocate.

And so, with a swollen hand, the help of a world-renowned government-efficiency expert, and only a few days left before the vote, Lary was scrambling to convince these folks that he really did have their best interests at heart.

Lary’s predicament is deeply rooted in the spatial and racial politics of metro Atlanta in the post-civil-rights era—and in the story of Sandy Springs, Georgia.

In 1950, Atlanta Mayor William Hartsfield had annexed the white suburb of Buckhead in order to preserve a two-to-one white voting majority in the city and to expand the city’s tax base—all part of Atlanta’s “Plan of Improvement.” It worked: Atlanta became a thriving and diverse Southern metropolis. By 1961, Hartsfield was bragging about the city’s combination of racial progressivism and booming business, dubbing Atlanta the “City Too Busy to Hate.” There was, to be sure, a great deal of hyperbole and cynicism in this declaration, but there was also a sliver of truth: Hartsfield had indeed established a political coalition of racially moderate Democrats, white business leaders, and black voters that outpaced much of the South in its relative racial harmony.

This coalition, however, also birthed a vehement opposition movement of working- and middle-class whites who wanted no part of Atlanta’s expansion. So, in 1965, when Hartsfield, by then out of office, attempted to replicate the success of the Buckhead annexation, things did not go as smoothly. Hartsfield wanted Atlanta to annex Sandy Springs, a majority-white, wealthy neighborhood just outside the city limits in Fulton County. He was met with outrage and obstruction. Two spokesmen for Sandy Springs promised to “build up a city separate from Atlanta and your Negroes and forbid any Negroes to buy, or own, or live within our limits.” Atlanta’s annexation plans had “forced this on us,” they wrote, “and we will fight to the finish.”

Facing a Sandy Springs community fervently opposed to joining Atlanta, the city backed off. (In Georgia, the decision to annex comes down to the wishes of the annex-ees, not the annex-ers.)

In his 2005 book White Flight, the Princeton historian Kevin Kruse tells the story of this white counter-coalition and the effects of their resistance on conservative politics not just in metro Atlanta, but nationwide. White flight, Kruse writes, “was a political revolution,” one that saw white Southern conservatives “abandon their traditional, populist, and often starkly racist demagoguery and instead craft a new conservatism predicated on a language of rights, freedoms, and individualism.” Resistance to the integration of public schools, for instance, transformed during this era from an objection to multiracial classrooms to a crusade against “forced busing”; segregated neighborhoods were similarly defended in the name of preserving Americans’ “freedom of association.”

Throughout the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, metro Atlanta’s whites employed this new, ostensibly colorblind language to resist integration and preserve their race-based advantages. In some cases, though, it was easy to read between the lines: In 1975, for example, one Cobb County leader quipped that suburban whites in his area thought of the Chattahoochee River as a “moat” that protected them from Atlanta. “They wish they could build forts across there to keep people from coming up here,” he said.

In Fulton County, which is bisected by Atlanta, this battle was most often fought over two overlapping issues: taxes and annexation. By the 1980s, the residents of Sandy Springs had long felt that their county taxes were being unfairly redistributed to nonwhite communities in other parts of the county, with whom they shared little common ground. Then, in 1987, black candidates secured a majority of the seven-member Fulton County Commission. Four years later, Fulton County raised taxes. This move was, in part, demanded by the state of Georgia, whose revenue commissioner had ruled that Fulton’s wealthy, white areas were being taxed below statewide minimum rates. That wasn’t, however, how the wealthy, white areas viewed it.

Many in Sandy Springs characterized the new taxes as racially motivated—against whites. Two Sandy Springs residents, lawyers Mitch Skandalakis and Robert Proctor, sued the county to block the new tax codes and supported groups like RIOT (Rollback Increase of Taxes) and STOP (Stop Taxing Our Property). Skandalakis and Proctor ultimately failed to derail the new taxes, but in 1993, the grassroots energy of these groups reshaped the county government: When the black chairman of Fulton’s Board of Commissioners left office to run for mayor of Atlanta, Skandalakis replaced him—defeating Martin Luther King III for the vacated seat.

As a white Republican, Skandalakis was a minority on the commission, but he was a loud and controversial voice. Less than a year into office, Skandalakis was sued for libel after funding racist campaign materials against a black candidate. A few years after that, Skandalakis ran for lieutenant governor and was again sued for libel, again for campaign ads with racist overtones. (Both matters were settled.) Meanwhile, Skandalakis and Proctor—who has been described as “Atlanta’s Rush Limbaugh with a legal license”—were elevated to folk-hero status. (Years later, Skandalakis was investigated yet again and sent to prison in 2013 for lying to an FBI agent.)

In 2004, Republicans took complete control of the Georgia state government for the first time since Reconstruction and opened the door for the creation of new cities—something the state’s Democrats had blocked for decades. Sandy Springs could finally realize its dream of “build[ing] up a city separate from Atlanta,” and it incorporated the following year, precipitating a wave of white neighborhoods throughout metro Atlanta eager to follow suit and insulate themselves from their counties via incorporation.

The cityhood movement was a major milestone for the politics of “suburban secession,” according to Kruse. These communities wanted “to get away from metropolitan Atlanta, both in terms of their identity, but largely in terms of having political, economic, or legal obligations to the city of Atlanta, its people, and what were regarded as its problems,” Kruse told me. “They wanted to be separate. And once that benchmark was laid down, that model was something that other suburban communities could easily look to.”

It wasn’t a moat, but the town of Sandy Springs in Fulton County had raised the bar—insulating themselves with a new, protective layer of government.

Many people, however, completely reject any version of this history that connects the cityhood movement to the racism of decades past. They see the movement not as the embodiment of white flight, but instead as the wise reassertion of local control in the face of a wasteful and corrupt county government. But, when the county government is black and the people incorporating are white, many see racial resentment as a driving force.

“We’re largely talking about black faces in places of public power and influence,” said Michael Leo Owens, a political-science professor at Emory University and a DeKalb County resident. “So when whites decide to create new cities, and the language they use is a language of serious critique against the county government, … it has to raise, in some people’s minds, the question of whether or not it is legitimate, what people are seeking, and the grounds upon which they’re seeking it.”

On the other hand, Owens noted, “There are other reasons why people would want to have greater control over their communities. … People are dissatisfied with the county as not being a good provider of public services or a good steward of public finances.”

Jason Lary counts himself firmly among the dissatisfied. As I accompanied Lary on his campaign stops, he told the story of his DeKalb County neighborhood, an area that, while middle-class, had been hit hard by the recession and hadn’t recovered. “You see these houses out here?” he asked me as we drove around the Stonecrest footprint, checking on his signs. “In north DeKalb, these would be $300,000, $400,000 houses. Here? $150,000, $165,000. They were built new at $400,000, and when [the market] crashed, they never came back. And this is the heart of Stonecrest—your average homeowner.”

The area has a large upscale shopping mall, includes the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, and sits just a few exits from downtown Atlanta, and yet Stonecrest hasn’t drawn much interest from businesses or developers. “I’ve tested this before,” Lary said. “As an insurance executive, I call on nothing but CEOs and vice presidents. And I will talk about having a location in DeKalb County—they just snicker and laugh … They won’t even stop on our exit to take a look at us, because of the DeKalb County government.”

DeKalb County’s reputation, in this regard, is well-earned. In 2013, a grand jury released the results of a yearlong investigation, which found wide-ranging corruption that spanned nearly a decade and covered two separate administrations. Vernon Jones, who in 2000 became DeKalb’s first black CEO, helped expand the powers of the county’s top position—he also presided over an administration that, according to the grand jury, routinely rigged bids on government contracts, steered contracts to vendors with ties to government officials, and allowed some of those contractors to drastically overcharge the county for municipal services. DeKalb once gave a $2.2 million per year tree-trimming contract to a fake company created by a Cartoon Network illustrator. The man had zero tree-trimming experience and did not own a chainsaw.

Burrell Ellis, Jones’s predecessor, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in July 2015 after being convicted of extortion, having threatened to terminate government contracts with companies that didn’t contribute to his campaign fund. (Ellis was also convicted of perjury, but in March 2016 was released from prison early, and in November 2016 the Georgia Supreme court overturned his conviction. A month later, he was reinstated as CEO.) In total, roughly 40 DeKalb County elected officials, political appointees, teachers, police officers, and other county employees have been convicted of various corruption-related violations in recent years.

County corruption is emblematic of the central complication within the cityhood debate. Politics in DeKalb and Fulton—the Georgia counties home to all but one of the movement’s newly created cities—are areas with robust black political leadership and, as Kruse and others have shown, a history of whites who object to black leadership on purely racial grounds. But after years of corruption, when whites in these counties criticize their leaders, it can be hard to tell whether they’re invoking deep-seated racial hatred or simply asking for better government—or both.

In the 1960s, the residents of Sandy Springs were clear about why they wanted to become a separate city: Atlanta had “forced Negroes” on them. These days, a corrupt county government makes the cityhood trend more understandable, but it may also give cover to those seeking segregation. In this way, the cityhood movement has become a kind of polarizing racial Rorschach test. Some see engaged citizens fighting distinct political battles with corrupt county governments; others see whites across metro Atlanta hell-bent on finishing the racial isolationism that previous generations started.

Jason Lary, courtesy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Hyosub Shin

I have been investing in this town for 25, 30 years,” Lary told me. “We thought that the county would have done better for us, and it didn’t happen.” But then he noticed “cities starting to form on their own.” When Lary caught wind of these incorporation campaigns, he saw the cityhood movement’s potential to transform his own community. When a neighborhood called La Vista Hills tried to become a city, Lary started dropping in on their meetings: “Not only am I the only black guy there—I’m the only black guy there in a suit!” But Lary quickly befriended the La Vista Hills leadership, “and from there,” he said, “I watched and learned.”

The campaign to create Stonecrest was thus ironic from the start: The incorporation of white, wealthy enclaves in metro Atlanta had left already maligned, black-led county governments with a depleted tax base and less power with which to serve the largely black neighborhoods that remained under their control. By adding Stonecrest to the cityhood movement, Lary was attempting to use the very political tactics that weakened his community in order to save it.

That irony was not lost on his detractors. “It gets to a point where you’re completely surrounded by cities, and they all just selectively annex everything that’s valuable until there’s no tax base left,” said Marjorie Snook, the leader of the anti-cityhood DeKalb Strong, an organization that successfully derailed the creation of La Vista Hills in 2015.

Lary sees it this way, too. “The fight amongst us was: Black folks feel like white folks have been taking from them—like La Vista Hills was going to, like Tucker did, like Dunwoody did,” Lary explained. Where Lary and Snook disagree is over how to solve the problem. “And now here’s crazy Jason Lary coming along, and he wants to be like them. He’s an Uncle Tom; he’s not a real black man,” Lary said, mimicking his detractors. “The Uncle Tom thing burned. That hurt.” As far as Lary is concerned, Stonecrest is not so much a part of the cityhood movement as it is a reaction to it—an attempt to save his neighborhood before it’s too late.

Snook understands, but doesn’t like where that thinking leads—to small, homogenous communities that nurture resentments over turf. She said she watched the logic of cityhood flip from offense to defense: “Whether we want to do this or not, we’re going to become sitting ducks. If we’re not the ones who grab the tax base now, somebody else is going to grab it from us,” she said, distilling the latest pro-cityhood argument. “So it really becomes this war between communities for resources, for a tax base.” And Snook doesn’t want her local communities to be at war.

Lary, though, is comfortable with confrontation. “You cannot be a cotton ball for the kind of work I’m doing,” he told me. “It’s some Jimmy Hoffa-level work.” As he embarked on his war for Stonecrest, the hostility he faced from his friends and neighbors was countered by an unexpected source: a wave of conservative white support from across metro Atlanta. Lary quickly transitioned from a student of surrounding cityhood movements to a unique political ally. He raised funds and stumped for La Vista Hills’ ultimately unsuccessful bid to incorporate, and in the process, he gained a platform to drum up support for his own campaign—support Lary would badly need as he and his small team attempted to push Stonecrest’s incorporation through the Republican-controlled state legislature and onto the ballot in DeKalb.

Lary told me about one conversation he had with “a Tea Party guy” at a La Vista Hills fundraiser. “He says, ‘Hey, I just got to ask you a question: How are you going to get the rest of these black people to vote for you?’” Lary laughed. “I said, ‘I’m not. Your folks are going to vote for me!’”

No support, however, would be as crucial as that of a man named Oliver Porter. Lary is built like a linebacker and speaks in a theatrical baritone, but when he describes his first encounter with Porter, his voice lowers to an awed hush: “In the third [La Vista Hills] meeting, the master shows up: Oliver Porter.” After the meeting, Lary chased him down in the parking lot. “He thought I was trying to rob him!” Lary cackled. “And from that point on, I didn’t let him out of my sight.”

Lary was wise to do so. If the cityhood movement can be said to have produced anything resembling a political star, that star is Oliver Porter. Porter, now 80, was a longtime resident of Sandy Springs when it won its fight for incorporation. As interim city manager at the time, he not only got the city up and running, but, more significantly, served as its ideological architect.

Porter turned Sandy Springs into a kind of free-market Disneyland, outsourcing every possible municipal service he could to private industry in both the United States and abroad. Aside from its police and fire departments, Sandy Springs has only eight public employees—half of whom oversee the city’s relationships with the private companies that provide its services. (Georgia state law requires that schools be run at the county level.) At one point, a company from San Francisco collected the trash, a company in England gave out business licenses, and a business based out of Pasadena, California, ran the city’s court system.

No longer so beholden to the rest of Fulton County, Sandy Springs has dramatically improved its services without raising taxes. Visitors to the city can even take a tour of its municipal ingenuity, which features a stop at the city’s high-tech traffic-control center. In 2010, Sandy Springs was named a runner-up in the “Better Government Competition” held annually by the Pioneer Institute, an influential free-market think tank. Sandy Springs is now home to the headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than the city of Atlanta, despite being, by population, less than a quarter of its size.

When Sandy Springs became the first city to incorporate, other communities flocked to Porter for guidance. His written instructions to fellow cityhood enthusiasts grew to manuscript length, and so he published them; then he wrote a second book a few years later. As the cityhood movement grew, Porter became known as the guru of lean, effective local government. The first time we spoke, he had just returned from giving a series of lectures in Hawaii. He has worked with municipalities in Honduras and across the United States; recently, his book became a best-seller in its genre (“Government”) in Japan. It is safe to say that there is no cityhood movement without Sandy Springs, and there is no Sandy Springs without Oliver Porter.

Porter looks like Ronald Reagan dressed up like Colonel Sanders. We met at his home in Sandy Springs, which sits at the end of a tranquil street lined with trees that were striking in their beauty but eerie in their uniformity. We sat in his library, which was entirely mahogany and leather, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Down the hall was a plush carpeted room that incongruously contained nothing but a hot tub. Porter mentioned that he and his wife had just hosted a black-tie party for his birthday two days earlier. He then paused and apologized, with arresting sincerity, for having not invited me.

At first glance, it seems odd that Porter, who has never held public office, became the face of the cityhood movement. Really, though, his prominence is not in spite of this fact, but because of it. Porter is an engineer and a former AT&T executive; he considers his work within the cityhood movement to be utterly apolitical. “Everyone expected me to run for office,” he said, “and I’m just not psychologically attuned to being a politician. Compromise doesn’t make sense to me. It’s right or it’s wrong—there’s nothing in between.”

Given Porter’s obsession with government efficiency and his disdain for politics, he embodies precisely what the cityhood movement has long claimed to be about. The more he is recognized as its figurehead, the more the cityhood movement distances itself from its racially charged past.

Porter willingly cites Sandy Springs’ decades-long fight for incorporation but blanches at the connection of this history to the tax revolt led by Skandalakis or to race. In Porter’s telling, the incorporation of Sandy Springs was inspired by conflicts with the county over zoning. Fulton County, Porter told me, had passed a rule stating that no more than 40 percent of housing in Sandy Springs could be multiunit, and yet that number had climbed all the way to 52 percent.

“It seemed to us—and this may sound a little harsh—that they’d let anything be built that would generate some revenue that the county could then take and spend somewhere else,” he said. “We were getting swamped with apartments.”

I assumed that this concern over apartments was primarily about taxes, but Porter offered a different reason. “Mainly there was a concern that apartment-dwellers are not as devoted to the community as people who buy homes, pay property taxes, and all. They’re more transient and just not as involved in communities,” Porter told me. “Apartments also tend to—and this is not true of all—but tend to have a greater impact on public safety. There’s more crime—again, because of the transient nobody-knows-who-I-am sort of thing. Crimes, in our case, were tending to center in apartments. And again, the county was nonresponsive.”

Porter said that the creation of Sandy Springs, and, in effect, the entire cityhood movement, could have been easily prevented: “If the county had been a little more understanding or responsive to what the community was saying to them, it never would have happened.”

In 2007, two years after Sandy Springs’ incorporation, U.S. Census data that tracked owner- and renter-occupied homes by race showed that white people headed roughly 90 percent of homes that were owned in the city. Black people and Latinos accounted for around 3 percent each. Roughly 90 percent of black-headed households and 80 percent of Latino-headed households in Sandy Springs rented their homes.

Porter, however, is passionately insistent that race had nothing to do with Sandy Springs’ zoning concerns. “I can tell you personally, from having sat on the organizing committee for 10 years, that race was never an issue,” he told me. The only time race was discussed, Porter said, was when the committee brainstormed methods of minority outreach as it planned the new city.

It was clear from our conversations that Porter is deeply troubled by this line of criticism. “We’re not, as The Atlanta Journal [-Constitution] called us, a bunch of ‘white racists,’ or ‘rich, white racists,’” he said, pointing out that the percentage of residents of color has grown in Sandy Springs post-incorporation. Porter feels that the local media played a large role in painting the cityhood movement as discriminatory. He described a cycle by which negative media coverage gave Sandy Springs an unfair reputation on issues of race, breeding distrust and miscommunication that the media then highlighted further.

“I tried reaching out to the black community,” Porter said, “but there was no organized way to get to it. Normally, you get there through black churches … I went to a large one right across the border, seeking out help on how to reach folks with information. And the Atlanta paper wasn’t doing anything but criticizing. They weren’t publishing any real information.” Porter then added, with a mix of humor and contempt, that Cox Enterprises, which owns the Constitution, is headquartered in Sandy Springs but “wouldn’t admit it for many years. They always said, ‘We’re in Atlanta.’”

Porter’s insistence on the cityhood movement’s race neutrality comes down to a question of historical aperture. Porter seemed disgusted and frustrated as I read back to him the quote about how Sandy Springs once wanted to “build up a city separate from Atlanta and [its] Negroes.” Days after our meeting, he emailed me to even more strongly reject the criticism of the cityhood movement as racist. “1960,” he wrote, referring to the general provenance of the quote, “was over half a century ago.” Then, in a bulleted list, he continued:

  • You were not born.

  • The cityhood movement did not start until about 1980.

  • I did not live in Sandy Springs until 1983.

  • The civil rights movement had hardly begun [in 1960] and the Civil Rights Act may not have even been passed.

From this vantage point, then, Lary and Porter make natural allies: Both are heavily invested in distancing the cityhood movement from charges of racism. When I asked Porter if a Stonecrest victory on Election Day would be good for the racial optics of the movement, he thought it would be, but he was also pessimistic. “In a perfect world, it would,” Porter said. “But there are still those who will oppose cityhood and will try to make it a racist issue, and you’ll say, What about Stonecrest? And they will say, Well, that’s an anomaly. But I do think it could help a lot.”

Lary agrees with Porter, but his understanding of their alliance is also shaped by hard-won pragmatism. After stating that Republican support for Stonecrest was due in part to earnest people “knowing it was the right thing to do,” Lary smiled and recounted something his father told him about the campaign: “He said, ‘You’re gonna win this, because you’re not in the white folks’ way. You don’t have something they want to take away from you and keep for themselves.’” Lary seemed to demure to his father’s perspective even as he delivered it with knowing laughter.

Owens, the Emory professor, echoed that sentiment. New, majority-black cities, he said, “ultimately strengthen the rhetoric of those on the north side who have already created cities. All they have to say is, Look, we’re doing, obviously, what other people in the counties wish they could be doing, and we encourage them to keep trying to do it,” he said. “Behind that, I think, is the idea of, Yeah, you create your city, and we have our city over here.

Tax revenue and government power may be the flashpoints of the cityhood debate, but undergirding the tension between each side is a fundamental disagreement about the definition of community. Many who oppose cityhood see the balkanization of metro Atlanta as the death of a county-wide unity they have long held dear. Snook, the leader of DeKalb Strong, told me that the preservation of the county’s identity was at the core of her organizing work.

“The big question that everything hinges on,” she said, “is, who is ‘us’? Where are the boundaries of my community? And one reason that this breaks my heart and upsets me so much is that, when I think of ‘us,’ I am thinking of the whole county. I think of the whole county as my community, and so I don’t think of my tax dollars as diverted elsewhere if they’re being spent within my county. But for some people, if it’s not in their little patch of land, they feel like somehow it’s being diverted, it’s being taken by other people. And it comes down to, who do you think of as ‘other people’ and who do you think of as ‘us’?”

For Lary, solidarity is something only his wealthy, white neighbors to the north can afford to cherish. After speeding away from a strip of highway median on which Lary had, daringly, parked in order to hammer down some signs, I brought up Snook’s criticism. As we idled at a red light, he took his hands and spread them far apart. “She’s here on this issue,” he said, gesturing with his left, “and I’m way over here,” shaking his right. “I want to shed that ugly [DeKalb] image. Because they have business in central and north DeKalb. They have industry, they have strong homes.” As long as a town carries the DeKalb brand and not its own, Lary said, nothing “is really going to happen with them.”

While Lary and Porter are unwavering in their advocacy for the cityhood movement, they both acknowledge that achieving their goals means leaving behind a group of increasingly disadvantaged neighbors. When I asked Porter about this, he jumped in before I could finish the question. “So the issue is: People say, Well, it isn’t fair to the rest of the people who got left behind,” he said. “My answer to them has been: Form your own city. If you want to get good government, form your own city. Don’t just keep depending on someone else to subsidize you.”

This position is key to Porter’s argument. People in unincorporated areas may be worse off as a result of the cityhood movement, but the county is still exploiting them—and all they have to do to mitigate the damage from the incorporations around them is to incorporate themselves.

“What bothers me is, out there, all of these existing governments operating so inefficiently,” Porter said, practically seething. “And I’ve studied them, and I know they could be doing it much more efficiently for their citizens and providing them better service at the same time … And yet, you cannot get elected officials to do it, because they basically are more concerned about their own jobs than they are the citizens.”

Lary was more blunt: “Hey, go get your own. Do it for yourself.”

But this is easier said than done. Incorporation campaigns are expensive. In addition to standard campaign costs, would-be cities must pay for nonpartisan feasibility studies to prove their economic sustainability. Lary went into significant debt financing the Stonecrest campaign and put in a huge amount of time. As the cityhood movement spreads across more of metro Atlanta, the people left in unincorporated areas will be the same ones with the fewest resources needed to form a city themselves. But this “get your own” attitude is reflected in the very rules for incorporation in Georgia. The only people who get to vote on the creation of a new city are those who would become its residents. Everyone else gets left behind without a say.

Lary acknowledged all of this but was unmoved. Sticking it out with DeKalb County, he told me, “got us fucking trash on the ground, and trees growing out of the highway, and a bad economy, and houses that are underwater. So no—I’m ready to branch off.” Everyone else, he said, “can go somewhere else.”

On Election Day, Lary’s efforts paid off: Stonecrest, Georgia, became its own city. It passed with 59 percent of the vote. So did South Fulton, a previously unincorporated part of Fulton County with racial demographics nearly identical to Stonecrest’s. (It passed with 59 percent, too.)

At its core, the cityhood movement has been a referendum on the question of belonging—to whom certain communities feel beholden and what that responsibility entails. With Stonecrest, it seems fair to say that the ethos of the cityhood movement—with its winnowing away of communities’ imagined size and their responsibility to outsiders—is gaining steam. The White House is now guided by the mantra “America First.” The cityhood movement is, essentially, “Your Neighborhood First.”

Neither are new concepts. The political maneuvering involved in cityhood has been around a long time. “In terms of drawing municipal boundaries in order to self-interestedly get a tax base, or avoid constructing apartments, or avoid having affordable housing—let he without sin cast the first stone,” Paul Lewis, a professor at Arizona State who studies the creation of new cities, told me. “The Northeast—areas like Philadelphia and New York City and Boston—were doing stuff like this 50 or more years ago.”

Owens, though, told me, “In a place like Atlanta … perhaps, it’s about more than just what’s presented on the surface.” This uncertainty, of course, is how structural racism works. By incentivizing and even celebrating the consolidation of racial privilege, it makes it impossible to see where racial discrimination ends and citizen engagement begins. Indeed, it often makes these things—for whites—one and the same.

And yet, since being voted into existence, Stonecrest has made good on some of the promises Lary’s critics said were the most farfetched. Lary and his team promised an influx of economic development, and in February, the city announced a deal with the Atlanta Sports Connection, which will build a 200-acre, $200 million athletic complex—featuring, among other things, 28 sports fields, a 15,000-seat stadium, and a 380,000-square-foot entertainment district—right in the heart of Stonecrest.

Lary and his team also promised to give their neighbors a political voice, and the races for Stonecrest’s five city-council seats have been unusually dynamic. Mary-Pat Hector, for example, a 19-year-old Spelman College sophomore ran for one of the seats—losing last week in a runoff by just 22 votes. She’s the youngest person to have ever run for public office in Georgia.

“When Obama ran for president, we voted for him because he was a symbol of what we can be,” Lary told me. “That’s what Stonecrest is—it’s a symbol of what we can be.” He wants “to show people that just because it’s black,” that doesn’t mean Stonecrest will fail. “That’s what’s happened with DeKalb County. It’s black, and it’s screwed up, and we were in charge of it for two decades.” Now, he wants black communities around Georgia to see Stonecrest as a model and beacon of black self-determination.

“I think Stonecrest and South Fulton put the nail in the coffin for unincorporated areas. There will be no more unincorporated areas. Everyone will incorporate, everyone will have a city,” Lary said.

At the victory party for Stonecrest, Oliver Porter told the attendees how proud they should be to have someone like Lary working for their “independence.” And Lary has already been strategizing with other cityhood hopefuls, whom he said were “anxious to get started, because they now feel empowered.” He envisioned himself paying it forward as a mentor and adviser, as Porter did for him.

First, though, Lary will start work at his new job. In March, the citizens of Stonecrest elected him to be their first mayor. Nearly every aspect of the cityhood movement has sown discord, and yet Lary’s election seems to be the only fair outcome of this chapter in Stonecrest’s history. The man who put the city on the map is now responsible for keeping it there.

Mother of all Bombshells

By Loren DeJonge Schulman, Radha Iyengar, Erin Simpson and Mira Rapp-Hooper from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

This week on “Bombshell,” we dissect Trump’s first 100 days: whither America First, Axis of Adults (or just the big kids table?), budget shenanigans, and delegating all the things. But first, Mira Rapp-Hooper joins us to walk through the state of play on the Korean Peninsula (and reveals where you can get literal bombshells made into knives). ...

If the cuts are necessary, where's Philip Hammond's deficit target gone?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The Chancellor ripped up his predecessor's plans and has no plan to replace them. What's going on?

Remember austerity?

I’m not talking about the cuts to public services, which are very much still ongoing. I’m talking about the economic argument advanced by the Conservatives from the financial crisis in 2007-8 up until the European referendum: that unlesss the British government got hold of its public finances and paid down its debt, the United Kingdom would be thrown into crisis as its creditors would get nervous.

That was the rationale for a programme of cuts well in excess of anything their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, campaigned on in the run-up to the 201 election. It was the justification for cuts to everything from English language lessons to library hours. It was the stick used to beat Labour in the 2015 election. Now it justifies cuts to payments to families that lose a parent, to mental health services and much else besides.

Which is odd, because there’s something missing from this election campaign: any timetable from the Tories about when, exactly, they intend to pay all that money back. Neither the government’s day-to-day expenditure nor its existing debt can meaningfully be said to be any closer to being brought into balance than they were in 2010.

To make matters worse, Philip Hammond has scrapped George Osborne’s timetable and plan to secure both a current account surplus and to start paying off Britain’s debts. He has said he will bring forward his own targets, but thus far, none have been forthcoming.

Which is odd, because if the nervousness of Britain’s creditors is really something to worry about, their causes for worry have surely increased since 2015, not decreased. Since then, the country has gone from a byword for political stability to shocking the world with its vote to leave the European Union. The value of its currency has plummetted. Its main opposition party is led by a man who, according to the government at least, is a dangerous leftist, and, more to the point, a dangerous leftist that the government insists is on the brink of taking power thanks to the SNP. Surely the need for a clear timetable from the only party offering “strong and stable” government is greater than ever?

And yet: the government has no serious plan to close the deficit and seems more likely to add further spending commitments, in the shape of new grammar schools, and the possible continuation of the triple lock on pensions.  There seems to be no great clamour for Philip Hammond to lay out his plans to get the deficit under control.

What gives?

Could it all, possibly, have been a con to advance the cause of shrinking the state?

Photo: Getty

Local councils are set to lose the property game

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

A carry trade in real estate is a dangerous way to cover budget holes

Hungary’s illiberal leader must be shown the limits

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

Germany’s chancellor can send a strong signal in defence of EU values

How Labour's power-brokers will divide up the party's safe seats

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Labour's biggest trade unions will divide up Labour's vacant seats between them. Here's how it's going. 

The snap election has both of the big two parties scrambling to fill their seats as quickly as possible. The Liberal Democrats have an edge in this department in that they selected in anticipation of an early election last June, and with a few exceptions, that slate of candidates will go forward into the election.

For the Conservatives, shortlisting is done by Conservative Campaign Headquarters, who present three names to the local association, who then pick the candidate.

For Labour, the short time frame means that anyone selected in 2015, whether successful or unsuccessful, will be selected again automatically. Where seats fall vacant, either because the candidate or MP is old, unable to run for personal reasons or simply doesn’t fancy it, that will be decided by the nine officers of the NEC.

Those nine officers are: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, his deputy Tom Watson, plus Jim Kennedy of Unite, Andy Kerr of the Communication Workers’ Union, Keith Birch of Unison, and Cath Speight of the GMB, with Ann Black, an ever-present on the party’s NEC since 1998, representing the membership. Unite’s assistant general secretary, Diana Holland, boosts the Unite contingent though she sits there not as a Unite representative but as the party’s treasurer. In the chair is Glenis Willmott, the leader of the party in Europe, but effectively an extra vote for the GMB.

As far as the Corbynite and Corbynsceptic factions of the parliamentary Labour party are concerned, the NEC officers are finely balanced, though Wilmott’s casting vote will generally go for the Corbynsceptics.

But the relationships that matter are between people who won’t even be in the room: the political directors of Unite, the GMB, Unison and the CWU, the biggest of Labour’s unions.

That just 12 of the seats are considered “safe” means the focus will be on them, though the NEC will still have to vote on the large number of vacant seats where the defeated parliamentary candidate is not standing again.

In practice, that Dave Ward, the general secretary of the CWU is currently unwell and that his political team is considered to be “green” in the words of one senior trade union official means that the CWU will likely do the worst out of the major trade unions. The big winners will be the Unite and the GMB, who will parcel up the juiciest morsels between them, though Unison have vowed to be “more assertive” this time around. But for the most part, selections will operate on a you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours approach.

Although some seats are considered “done deals” – Stephanie Peacock, regional political officer at the GMB, is likely to be selected in Barnsley, Mark Ferguson, campaigns officer at Unison, is considered a shoe-in for Blaydon, while Ellie Reeves, sister of Rachel Reeves and wife of John Cryer, the chair of the parliamentary Labour party, and the favoured choice of the GMB, will likely be selected in Lewisham West and Penge  – others are more fraught.

Unison feel they were short-changed by the selection processes last time – the polls meant that deals they struck rebounded badly as few of their people were selected for safe seats but were instead in marginal that were expected to fall easily to Labour – and are being more aggressive, according to officials from other trade unions.

There is currently confusion about what will happen in Liverpool Walton. Steve Rotheram has vowed to remain in place unless his successor is from the party’s left flank. That no guarantee has been forthcoming means that as things stand, he will combine the role of mayor for the combined authority with that of being MP for Walton, though the likelihood is that a deal will be struck allowing him to stand down. Dan Carden, an aide to Len McCluskey, who in a quirk of fate ran unsuccessfully against Peacock to be youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee, is considered the likely beneficiary.

The GMB had been assured that Jo Platt, both theirs and Andy Burnham’s favoured candidate in Leigh, would be given a free run by the other trade unions. But in practice, as one well-connected official puts it “We made that deal because no-one was going to beat Jo among members. Now it’s between NEC officers, it’s a very different game.” Others observe that Burnham, by not striking a hard bargain like Rotheram, had traded away his ability to influence who succeeds him "for nothing". 

There is also a nervousness around two notional “safe” seats in the south of England: Oxford East and Slough. Though both have decent majorities, many believe that they are highly personalised, particularly Andrew Smith’s in Oxford East, so no side wants to trade away something for one of these seats.

What does that mean for the struggle for control after the election? Should Corbyn defy the polls and win a majority, the selections in marginal seats are more heavily Corbynite, as many – but not all – of the candidates electing not to run again are Corbynsceptics who don’t believe they will be successful. They will, in the main, be replaced by true believers. If the polls are borne out but there are any freak gains – possible depending on how the Liberal Democrats do in some marginal – they will increase the strength of the leadership in the parliamentary Labour party.

There’s a well-established meme that Corbynite MPs have larger majorities than the rest of the parliamentary Labour party. This is because MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 did have larger majorities than the average Labour MP – but only if you include MPs who nominated him to “broaden the debate”. When you factor out MPs like Margaret Beckett and Rushanara Ali,  Corbynsceptic MPs with super-majorities, the Corbynite average falls back in line with the rest of the parliamentary Labour party.

Simply put: there is no way for the left to get sufficient nominations to put a candidate of their own on the ballot without the support of MPs from the centre-left, no matter how bruising the defeat. Corbynite MPs are fairly accurate soil sample of the parliamentary Labour party in terms of majority size, demographic make-up of their electorates, and so on.  But as the parliamentary Labour party shrinks, the importance of one or two MPs becomes more pivotal.  

So although the Corbynite left may be a little stronger in the next parliament than the last, as things stand, any Corbynite wanting a place on the next ballot paper will be still be reliant on the kindness of strangers.

Photo: Getty

The New Statesman Cover | Cool Britannia 20 years on

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

A first look at this week's magazine.


28 April - 4 May 2017
Cool Britannia 20 years on

New Statesman cover

What kind of Christian is Theresa May?

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

And why aren’t we questioning the vicar’s daughter on how her faith influences her politics?

“It is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things,” Theresa May told Kirsty Young when asked about her faith on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in November 2014. “I think it’s right that we don’t sort of flaunt these things here in British politics but it is a part of me, it’s there, and it obviously helps to frame my thinking.”

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, Rev. Hubert Brasier, May grew up an active Christian in Oxfordshire. She was so involved in parish life that she even taught some Sunday school classes. She goes on in the Desert Island Discs interview to choose the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross sung by a chapel congregation, and recalls being alone in church with her parents, kneeling and singing together.

Despite her intense attachment to local CofE life, Theresa May’s role as a Christian in politics is defined more by her unwillingness to “flaunt” (in her words) her faith.

Perhaps this is partly why, as a Christian, May avoided the scrutiny directed at Lib Dem leader and evangelical Christian Tim Farron over the past week of his stance on homosexuality and abortion.

As Farron wriggled – first saying he didn’t want to make “theological pronouncements” on whether or not being gay is a sin (and then, days later, announcing that it isn’t) – May’s critics scratched their heads about why her voting record on such matters isn’t in the media spotlight.

She has a socially conservative voting record when it comes to such subjects. As the journalist and activist Owen Jones points out, she has voted against equalising the age of consent, repealing Section 28, and gay adoption (twice).

Although her more recent record on gay rights is slightly better than Farron’s – she voted in favour of same-sex marriage throughout the process, and while Farron voted against the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations in 2007 (the legislation obliging bed and breakfast owners and wedding cake makers, etc, not to discriminate against gay people), May simply didn’t attend.

May has also voted for the ban on sex-selective abortions, for reducing the abortion limit to 20 weeks, abstained on three-parent babies, and against legalising assisted suicide.

“Looking at how she’s voted, it’s a slightly socially conservative position,” says Nick Spencer, Research Director of the religion and society think tank Theos. “That matches with her generally slightly more economically conservative, or non-liberal, position. But she’s not taking those views off pages of scripture or a theology textbook. What her Christianity does is orient her just slightly away from economic and social liberalism.”

Spencer has analysed how May’s faith affects her politics in his book called The Mighty and the Almighty: How Political Leaders Do God, published over Easter this year. He found that her brand of Christianity underpinned “the sense of mutual rights and responsibilities, and exercising those responsibilities through practical service”.

May’s father was an Anglo-Catholic, and Spencer points out that this tradition has roots in the Christian socialist tradition in the early 20th century. A world away from the late Victorian Methodism that fellow Christian Margaret Thatcher was raised with. “That brought with it a package of independence, hard work, probity, and economic prudence. They’re the values you’d get from a good old Gladstonian Liberal. Very different from May.”

Spencer believes May’s faith focuses her on a spirit of citizenship and communitarian values – in contrast to Thatcher proselytising the virtues of individualism during her premiership.

Cradle Christian

A big difference between May and Farron’s Christianity is that May is neither a convert nor an evangelical.

“She’s a cradle Christian, it’s deep in her bloodstream,” notes Spencer. “That means you’re very unlikely to find a command-and-control type role there, it’s not as if her faith’s going to point her in a single direction. She’s not a particularly ideological politician – it’s given her a groundwork and foundation on which her politics is built.”

This approach appears to be far more acceptable in the eyes of the public than Farron’s self-described “theological pronouncements”.  May is known to be a very private politician who keeps her personal life, including her ideas about faith, out of the headlines.

“I don’t think she has to show off, or join in, she just does it; she goes to church,” as her former cabinet colleague Cheryl Gillan put it simply to May’s biographer Rosa Prince.

The voters’ view

It’s this kind of Christianity – quiet but present, part of the fabric without imposing itself – that chimes most with British voters.

“In this country, given our history and the nature of the established Church, it's something that people recognise and understand even if they don't do it themselves,” says Katie Harrison, Director of the Faith Research Centre at polling company ComRes. “Whether or not it’s as active as it used to be, lots of people see it as a nice thing to have, and they understand a politician who talks warmly about those things. That’s probably a widely-held view.”

Although church and Sunday school attendance is falling (about 13 per cent say they regularly attend Christian religious services, aside from weddings and funerals), most current surveys of the British population find that about half still identify as Christian. And ComRes polling in January 2017 found that 52 per cent of people think it’s important that UK politicians and policy-makers have a good understanding of religion in the UK.

Perhaps this is why May, when asked by The Sunday Times last year how she makes tough decisions, felt able to mention her Christianity:  “There is something in terms of faith, I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.”

“I don’t think we’re likely to react hysterically or with paranoid fear if our politicians start talking about their faith,” reflects Spencer. “What we don’t like is if they start ‘preaching’ about it.”

“Don’t do God”

So if May can speak about her personal faith, why was the nation so squeamish when Tony Blair did the same thing? Notoriously, the former Labour leader spoke so frankly about his religion when Prime Minister that his spin doctor Alastair Campbell warned: “We don’t do God.” Some of Blair’s critics accuse him of being driven to the Iraq war by his faith.

Although Blair’s faith is treated as the “watershed” of British society no longer finding public displays of religion acceptable, Spencer believes Blair’s problem was an unusual one. Like Farron, he was a convert. He famously converted to Catholicism as an adult (and by doing so after his resignation, side-stepped the question of a Catholic Prime Minister). Farron was baptised at 21. The British public is more comfortable with a leader who is culturally Christian than one who came to religion in their adulthood, who are subjected to more scrutiny.

That’s why Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May can get away with talking about their faith, according to Spencer. “Brown, a much more cultural Presbyterian, used a lot of Biblical language. Cameron talked about it all the time – but he was able to do so because he had a vague, cultural, undogmatic Anglicanism,” he tells me. “And May holds it at arm’s length and talks about being a clergyman’s daughter, in the same way Brown talked about his father’s moral compass.”

This doesn’t stop May’s hard Brexit and non-liberal domestic policy jarring with her Christian values, however. According to Harrison’s polling, Christian voters’ priorities lie in social justice, and tackling poverty at home and overseas – in contrast with the general population’s preoccupations.

Polling from 2015 (pre-Brexit, granted) found that practising Christians stated more concern about social justice (27 per cent) than immigration (14 per cent). When entering No 10, May put herself “squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”. Perhaps it’s time for her to practise what she preaches.

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The problems of family planning in Nigeria

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Not a plot

NOT everyone thinks birth control is a blessing. Boko Haram, a jihadist group that terrorises north-eastern Nigeria, deems artificial contraception to be a product of infidel learning, and therefore forbidden. Its ideologues also believe that females should avoid school, marry early (sometimes while still children) and have lots of babies. In the dwindling areas the jihadists control, women have no choice.

Even outside those areas, contraception is controversial. Boko Haram’s ideology didn’t spring from nowhere. Many Nigerian Muslims believe that pills and condoms are part of a Western plot to stop Muslims from multiplying. And in poor, rural areas centuries of experience have taught people that having lots of children makes economic sense. They can be put to work in the fields, they will provide for their parents in old age and, given high rates of infant mortality, if you don’t have several you may end up with none.

So the government in Kaduna, a majority-Muslim state north of the capital, Abuja, does not encourage people to have fewer children. That would be politically toxic. But it does offer free contraception,...Continue reading

Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

By Patrick Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

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Affiliative Interpersonal Behaviors During Stress Are Associated with Sleep Quality and Presleep Arousal in Young, Healthy Adults

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Feelings of interpersonal security are important for healthy sleep.

Quality Measures to Assess Care Transitions for Hospitalized Children

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Development of feasible quality measures of pediatric care transition is an important first step toward routinely evaluating and improving transition care for hospitalized children.

Statement Supporting NGOs in Hungary

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

A group of 80 leaders of philanthropic organizations respond to the efforts of the Hungarian government to restrict and stigmatize nongovernmental organizations operating in the public interest.

Tajik leader's 'full title' rule comes into force

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

All media must now refer to President Emomali Rahmon by his not insubstantial official title.

Tim Farron sacks former MP David Ward

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The Liberal Democrat leader said Ward's remarks made him "unfit" to stand. 

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has sacked David Ward as a candidate declaring him "unfit to represent the party". 

Ward, who lost his seat in Bradford East in 2015, once said "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians". At the time, the comments caused outcry, and Ward faced disciplinary procedures - later adjourned.

Farron, though, doesn't intend to revisit this particular episode. After news broke that Ward had been re-selected to stand as a candidate, he initially said it was not the leader's job to select candidates, but hours later had intervened to stop it. 

In a short statement, he said: "I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him."

Although Ward has been involved in anti-racism organisations, he has courted controversy with his conflation of Jews with Israel, his questioning of Israel's right to exist, and his tweet in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, in which French Jews were targeted, that "Je suis #Palestinian".

While the anti-Semitism row threatened to knock the Lib Dem's early election campaign off course, Farron's decision may help him avoid the ongoing saga haunting the rival Labour party. In April, Labour decided not to expel Ken Livingstone for his claim that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".

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The truth behind the Uber "flying cars" headlines

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Will you really be able to get an airborne taxi in ten years' time?

Uber has announced plans to create and test a network of flying cars in Dallas and Dubai by 2020. Its proposed service, Uber Air, will be developed with aviation companies and allow passengers to order flying taxis in the same way users of the app order car rides today. What’s more, the company claims the service will be initially as cheap – and later cheaper – than ordering a traditional non-flying Uber car.

Remember that bit in Grease where, after one hour and fifty minutes of theatrical-but-none-the-less-reality-based high school hijinks, Sandy and Danny use the fading beats of “We Go Together” to take to the skies in an auto-matic, system-matic, and hydroooooo-matic Greased Lightning? Yeah, that. That is Uber’s announcement.  

First and foremost, the ensuing headlines obscure the fact that the technology doesn’t yet exist in the way that Uber wants it to. The first maiden voyage of Lilium’s electric “flying car” was five days ago, but the flight lasted just a few minutes, had no passengers, and was controlled by a pilot on the ground. Years of development – and then testing – will be required before Uber can have the electric, zero-emissions, autonomous, and near-silent vehicles it envisions.

But that’s why Uber are partnering with plane manufacturers, cities, and electric charging companies. The company have announced a wide host of partnerships with aviation companies, including Pipistrel, Aurora Flight Services, and Bell Helicopter. But these partnerships expose the biggest fallacy about “flying cars” – which is that despite the eye-catching headlines (which are admittedly not Uber’s fault) “flying cars” are just, you know, not.

What Uber are actually talking about are the much-less-catchy-and-futuristic-sounding eVTOL aircrafts. eVTOL stands for electric “vertical take-off and landing”, which means – you guessed it – that the aircraft can take off and land vertically, without the need for a runway. Like a helicopter.

But Uber’s eVTOLs will be unlike helicopters in that they will be smaller, quitter, and autonomous, thus able to fly around cities and land without much trouble. At least, this is why Uber are pairing with real estate companies to create landing pads called “vertipods”, and working with the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure air traffic is properly regulated. The company hope to first showcase the new rides at the 2020 World Expo in Dubai, with the first passengers being transported within a decade.

These partnerships and plans - including working with Nasa - mean that Uber’s dreams are far from impossible, but the timescale certainly seems unlikely.

There will be hundreds of planned and unplanned obstacles in Uber’s way (won't someone please think of the birds?). Consider, for example, driverless cars. People have been experimenting with the technology since the 1920s, and only within the last few years has autonomous cars been tested on public roads. Last month, a self-driving Uber car was involved in an accident, forcing the company to pull them off the road. Uber might be able to test its “flying cars” by 2020, sure, but its statement that its planned on-demand urban air transportation is “achievable in the coming decade” seems at best, bold.

And the company truly could benefit from slowing down a little. Recent press has been bad for the ride-sharing app, which was recently accused of tracking users even after they deleted the app from their phones. The company has also come under near-constant fire for its business practices, which include allegations of failing to properly do background checks on their drivers and attempting to deny its drivers minimum wage, sick pay and paid holiday. Many might prefer it if Uber sorted out its existing problems on the ground before taking to the air. 

Paramount

Can Latino Food Trucks (Loncheras) Serve Healthy Meals?Â

From New RAND Publications. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Regulation, monitoring, and feedback could help owners and operators of Latino food trucks expand and maintain this program to serve healthy meals.

Michael Dugher interview: "A remarkable achievement" for Jeremy Corbyn to be doing so badly

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

In his first interview since announcing his departure, the Labour MP and former shadow cabinet minister takes aim at the left - and his own side's failings.

On the morning of 18 April, as news broke that Theresa May would make a surprise announcement, Michael Dugher was on the phone to his old friend Tom Watson. By chance, Labour’s deputy leader was “the person who had said most consistently that there would be an early election,” Dugher recalled. “I thought it was likely but once they decided not to have it at the same time as the locals I thought that ship had sailed.”

Two days after May revealed that a snap election would be held, the 42-year-old Barnsley East MP and former shadow cabinet minister announced that he would stand down. Labour allies and lobby journalists mourned the loss of one of Westminster’s characters: a pugnacious northerner full of authentic loathing of the Tories and contempt for his party’s hard-left.

When I met Dugher in his parliamentary office four days later, he told me that he longed to see more of his family (he has three children aged 11, nine and four) but also that the last two years had been “thoroughly miserable”. The former Brown spin doctor lamented: “Opposition is always really, really hard. People who like opposition and skip into the chamber every day, I kind of wonder whether all the lights are on ...  The only point of being in opposition is to try and get into government.” He would trade his seven years in parliament, he told me, for seven days on the backbenches in government.

Born into a working class family in Erdlington, a Doncaster mining village, Dugher hails from Labour’s “old right” - a tradition antithetical to that of Jeremy Corbyn. Like other standard-bearers such as Tom Watson and John Spellar (all former trade union officials), Dugher is pro-Trident, pro-NATO and devoted to the politics of power, rather than protest.

Four months after he became shadow culture secretary under Corbyn (having served as shadow transport secretary under Ed Miliband), Dugher was sacked for “disloyalty”. Corbyn privately cited a New Statesman article in which Dugher argued against a “revenge reshuffle” targeting supporters of Syrian intervention.

Ever since, he has warned that Labour is drifting remorselessly away from power. Though he insisted that electoral defeat was not inevitable (“Politics is wild and unpredictable. Who knows what could happen?”), he added: “You’d have to have a screw loose not to think things are pretty tough. I noticed when Jeremy addressed the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] he didn’t announce the key seats we’d need to take off the Tories to form a Labour government. I thought that was ominous.”

He continued: “It is a remarkable achievement for the leadership to have taken a catastrophic situation in Scotland and made it quite a lot worse. We seem to be doing worse in Wales ... We’ve gone backwards amongst every demographic, every region of the country. Jeremy is behind Theresa May on managing the NHS! It’s quite a special achievement to put all of that together in a short period of time. Hats off to Jeremy and Seumas [Milne], Diane [Abbott] and John [McDonnell]. That’s pretty special.”

Some Corbyn allies privately suggest that the Labour leader could retain office even after a heavy defeat (as Neil Kinnock did in 1987 - though he gained 20 seats). "If Jeremy loses the general election he’s got to go," Dugher said. "The election’s started, I want Labour to do as well as possible but if Labour lost again, particularly if we did worse than last time, it would be ridiculous and an act of profound self-indulgence and vanity to consider staying on in those circumstances.

"I don’t know what his office are so defensive about. They think Jeremy’s going to win. Jeremy’s office should have a bit more faith in him to win the election and then the issue won’t arise."

He added: "The left have always been in the fortunate position of being able to blame the moderates, the centre for when we’ve lost. But whenever we’ve won, they’ve banked it, saying anyone would have won. 'Jeremy Corbyn could have in 1997' - not sure that’s the case, actually. For the first time, they are going to be put to an electoral test themselves: they’ve got the leadership, it’s Jeremy’s shadow cabinet, it will be his manifesto, the public are fairly clear about what Jeremy believes in and the direction of the party, so let’s see how it does electorally.”

Dugher ridiculed the suggestion that party disunity and a hostile media were to blame for Labour's woes. “I recognise that disunity does not help. But the reason why we are so far behind in the polls, it comes down to very simple things: it’s about leadership, leadership is the dominant issue at every general election.

“The idea that Labour might do badly because of Michael Dugher’s tweets, someone who nobody has bloody heard of, rather than Jeremy Corbyn, who is standing to be prime minister, is just for the birds, it’s the politics of excuses.”

Dugher added: “We’ve had a Tory press forever and a day ... They’re a lot less powerful than they were. The Sun will never be able to claim it won anything now, it isn’t like 1992. And yet they [Corbyn supporters] use it as an excuse, it’s just deranged.”

He derided the pro-Corbyn sites The Canary and SKWAWKBOX as "total bollocks" and recalled tweets claiming YouGov was biased towards the Tories. "It’s a member of the British Polling Council! Have these people been smoking something? They should just quit the excuses.

"When I saw a [Momentum] demonstration outside the New Statesman, and you had a beautiful look of bemusement on your face as much as anything, and I just thought 'the left are demonstrating against the New Statesman!' Is the New Statesman now part of the Tory press? What do they want, Pravda?"

But Dugher, who managed Andy Burnham’s 2015 leadership campaign, conceded that it was “no good moderates blaming Corbyn”. Labour members, he said, were “lured to Corbyn out of desperation. What we offered didn’t inspire, it wasn’t radical, it was more of the same. I am as guilty as everyone else.” He insisted that he was not pessimistic about Labour’s future, singling out Rachel Reeves (“the biggest brain in the House of Commons”), Chuka Umunna (“incredibly talented”) and Dan Jarvis (“I knew him when he was in the army and I was at the MoD, a great talent for the future”) for praise.

Dugher is not a man who will struggle to entertain himself outside of Westminster. He delights in sport, cooking (tweeting photos of his homemade curry), karaoke (unlike most, he really can sing) and sharing his Beatles obsession (his office includes an Abbey Road sign and a framed Yellow Submarine cover). “I know but I’m not going to tell you yet,” he said of his future plans.

As Dugher prepared to meet fellow MPs for leaving drinks in Strangers’ Bar, I asked whether he would ever stand again. “I’m a big believer in never say never,” he replied. “I’m very proud of the very small contribution I played in previous Labour governments.

“Unlike Jeremy and Seumas and others, who have no idea about government, who learned about socialism in expensive private schools, my politics was because of where I was from. I was born into the politics of Labour because I grew up in a pit village in the strike ... There was a lot of poverty when I was a child, I have very strong memories of that. That’s made me who I am and that’s why representing that working class constituency, ex-pit villages, I’m really proud of that.”

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General election 2017: Why don't voters get more angry about public spending cuts?

By Bobby Duffy from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

In 2012, 61 per cent were concerned about the impact of future cuts. By 2017 this was down to 45 per cent. What happened?

The shape of Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s pitch to the country is clear. The overarching theme is a “rigged” system, a Bernie Sanders style anti-establishment campaign. 

This started with a clear economic focus, but will build out to public services and state support more generally: first, the switch to under-funded schools, and we’ll soon see the NHS emerge as the primary target. As the shadow Health secretary Jon Ashworth said, Labour believes the public has reached a “tipping point” in their concern about waiting lists and accident and emergency services.

And this focus makes perfect sense for Labour. It just won’t work as well as they might hope.

Why does it make sense? Firstly because there is record pessimism about the future of the NHS. Our poll from March showed that 62 per cent of those surveyed expect the NHS to get worse in the next five years, the highest we’ve measured – and by far the most negative outlook for any public service.

It also makes sense because this is one the very few important issues where Labour has a lead over the Conservatives. In our monthly issues index for February, more than half of voters said it was one of the most important issues facing the country, the highest level since 2002. And it’s always in the top three issues that people say determine their vote.

And Labour still have a lead on the NHS: 36 per cent say they have the best policies of all the parties, with the Conservatives on just 23 per cent.

So why will it not work well for Labour? 

First, Labour’s lead on the issue is nothing like it was, even in the relatively recent past. In 2012, 46 per cent thought Labour were the best party for the NHS, and only 16 per cent thought the Conservatives were. In previous decades, Labour was up above 50 per cent at various points. They’ve lost a lot of ground as the originator and defender of the NHS.

Second, while Corbyn is right to claim that issues like public services have more day-to-day impact on people, our relationship with Europe is uniquely dominant right now. Outside a major political upheaval like Brexit or an economic meltdown, there is no doubt that the NHS would have topped concerns over the winter, as we’ve seen it do many times before. We have a special relationship with the NHS, and when we feel it’s under threat it can trump all other concerns - as in the early 2000s, when more than 70 per cent said it was the key national issue. But instead, Brexit tops the list right, with the EU higher in people’s minds than at any point since we started asking the question in 1974.

In any case, it’s not even clear that a real tipping point has been reached in our health care concerns. While our worry for the future is extremely high, current satisfaction and overall ratings are still high, and not declining that much. This is shown across lots of surveys of individual health services: ratings are slipping, but slowly. And this is brought home by international comparisons – we’re the most worried about the future of our health service out of 23 countries, but we’re also among the most satisfied currently. We’re a country-level example of the “worried well”.

And this leads to a fourth point – expectations of public services seem to be shifting. The narrative of the necessity of spending cuts is so firmly embedded now that expectations of the level of service we can afford as a country may have moved for the long-term.

We asked in 2012 what percentage of planned spending cuts people thought had been made. Of course, this is an impossible question to answer definitively, but it is a useful gauge of how long a road people think we have ahead. Back then, people thought 40 per cent of planned cuts had already happened. Now, five years later, we think it’s still just 37 per cent. The idea of semi-permanent austerity has taken hold.

Of course, this could still provide a key leverage point for Labour, if people think there is a way to avoid this future. But the key point is that the cuts are not biting at a personal level for large proportions of the population, rather they are concentrated among quite a small proportion of people. So, back in 2012, 32 per cent said they had been affected by cuts to public services – by 2017 this had actually declined to 26 per cent. No cumulative, growing resentment at the personal impact of cuts - in fact, the opposite. 

And similarly, back in 2012, 61 per cent were concerned about the impact of future cuts on them and their families. But by 2017 this was down to 45 per cent. 

We are constantly scanning for the “tipping point” that the Labour MP Jon Ashworth has identified. It may come suddenly, and if it comes it seems most likely it will be the NHS that shifts the balance. But there’s no sign yet, and that makes Labour’s message that much more difficult to land. 

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PMQs review: Theresa May signals she will scrap the state pension 'triple lock'

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The Prime Minister refused to guarantee the policy's survival after being challenged by the SNP's Angus Robertson.

At the final PMQs before the general election, Jeremy Corbyn echoed his first. "When I became leader of the opposition 18 months ago," he began (to Tory cries of "More!"), "I said I wanted people’s voices to be heard in Parliament". Having long abandoned his "people's questions" approach, Corbyn returned to it, highlighting Theresa May's reluctance to face the public.

As the Labour leader challenged her on the public sector pay cap, the housing crisis and school cuts, May stuck resolutely to her script, framing herself as the only leader who can defend the national interest.

When not warning that Labour would bankrupt the economy, the Tories remorselessly target its weak spot on security. May attacked Corbyn for "refusing to say he would strike against terrorism, refusing to commit to our nuclear deterrent and refusing to control our borders - keeping our country safe is the first duty of a prime minister". The PM showed the risks of rebuttal sites when she drew on the Diane Abbott-promoted "I like Jeremy Corbyn but..."  "It says, 'how will he pay for all this?', 'BUT I've heard he'll increase taxes', 'BUT I've heard he's a terrorist sympathiser', 'BUT his attitudes about defence worry me' - they are right to be worried ... even his own supporters know he's not fit to run the country."

Corbyn's rhetoric was similarly familiar, though he again quoted Tony Blair as he declared that "Strong leadership is about standing up for the many, not the few." In an echo of Ed Miliband, he added: "They are strong against the weak and weak against the strong". But not for the first time, it was left to the SNP's Angus Robertson to land the biggest blow. When he asked May to give "a clear and unambiguous commitment to maintaining the triple lock on the state pension", she refused to do so, instead promising that "pensioner incomes would continue to increase". This could mean increasing the state pension in line with inflation and/or earnings, rather than by 2.5% (whichever is highest).

Robertson surmised: "I asked the Prime Minister a pretty simple question. It was a yes or a no and the Prime Minister failed to answer. So pensioners right across this land are right to conclude that this Tory Prime Minister plans to ditch the triple lock." Unlike May, Corbyn vowed to "guarantee" the triple-lock. As Labour has learned to its cost in past elections, pensioners vote more than any other group. Though many will judge it bad policy, in the opposition's parlous state, Corbyn's pledge is good politics.

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The surprising truth about ingrowing toenails (and other medical myths)

By Phil Whitaker from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Medicine is littered with myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery.

From time to time, I remove patients’ ingrowing toenails. This is done to help – the condition can be intractably painful – but it would be barbaric were it not for anaesthesia. A toe or finger can be rendered completely numb by a ring block – local anaesthetic injected either side of the base of the digit, knocking out the nerves that supply sensation.

The local anaesthetic I use for most surgical procedures is ready-mixed with adrenalin, which constricts the arteries and thereby reduces bleeding in the surgical field, but ever since medical school I’ve had it drummed into me that using adrenalin is a complete no-no when it comes to ring blocks. The adrenalin cuts off the blood supply to the end of the digit (so the story goes), resulting in tissue death and gangrene.

So, before performing any ring block, my practice nurse and I go through an elaborate double-check procedure to ensure that the injection I’m about to use is “plain” local anaesthetic with no adrenalin. This same ritual is observed in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries around the world.

So, imagine my surprise to learn recently that this is a myth. The idea dates back at least a century, to when doctors frequently found digits turning gangrenous after ring blocks. The obvious conclusion – that artery-constricting adrenalin was responsible – dictates practice to this day. In recent years, however, the dogma has been questioned. The effect of adrenalin is partial and short-lived; could it really be causing such catastrophic outcomes?

Retrospective studies of digital gangrene after ring block identified that adrenalin was actually used in less than half of the cases. Rather, other factors, including the drastic measures employed to try to prevent infection in the pre-antibiotic era, seem likely to have been the culprits. Emboldened by these findings, surgeons in America undertook cautious trials to investigate using adrenalin in ring blocks. They found that it caused no tissue damage, and made surgery technically easier.

Those trials date back 15 years yet they’ve only just filtered through, which illustrates how long it takes for new thinking to become disseminated. So far, a few doctors, mainly those in the field of plastic surgery, have changed their practice, but most of us continue to eschew adrenalin.

Medicine is littered with such myths. For years we doled out antibiotics for minor infections, thinking we were speeding recovery. Until the mid-1970s, breast cancer was routinely treated with radical mastectomy, a disfiguring operation that removed huge quantities of tissue, in the belief that this produced the greatest chance of cure. These days, we know that conservative surgery is at least as effective, and causes far less psychological trauma. Seizures can happen in young children with feverish illnesses, so for decades we placed great emphasis on keeping the patient’s temperature down. We now know that controlling fever makes no difference: the fits are caused by other chemicals released during an infection.

Myths arise when something appears to make sense according to the best understanding we have at the time. In all cases, practice has run far ahead of objective, repeatable science. It is only years after a myth has taken hold that scientific evaluation shows us to have charged off down a blind alley.

Myths are powerful and hard to uproot, even once the science is established. I operated on a toenail just the other week and still baulked at using adrenalin – partly my own superstition, and partly to save my practice nurse from a heart attack. What would it have been like as a pioneering surgeon in the 1970s, treating breast cancer with a simple lumpectomy while most of your colleagues believed you were being reckless with your patients’ future health? Decades of dire warnings create a hefty weight to overturn.

Only once a good proportion of the medical herd has changed course do most of us feel confident to follow suit. 

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The NS Q&A: Naomi Alderman on Oprah, Ovid, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

"The worst things that ever happened to me were before I was 20."

What’s your earliest memory?

Sitting on a striped blue-and-white deckchair with a migraine. My mother gave me orange squash. We’ve worked out (from the deckchair) that I was 18 months old.

Who was your childhood hero?

I was incredibly inspired by Oprah Winfrey as a young woman. Her childhood (sexual and physical abuse, teenage pregnancy, the death of her baby) was traumatic, and her subsequent life has been defined by hard work, talent and one glorious victory after another. People in the UK can sneer about her because we are terrified of emotions and she’s not perfect (who is?), but she introduced me to the possibility of improving one’s internal life. A miracle.

What was the last book that made you envy the writer?

Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill. It’s as if he managed to voyage back a few hundred years and just take notes.

What political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

Florence Nightingale, who was a terrible nurse but a brilliant statistician and wielded her public image to influence politicians to improve health care. I wish that she were still around, skewering ministers misusing statistics on Question Time.

When were you happiest?

Now. The worst things that ever happened to me were before I was 20. It has been slow, hard-won improvement since then.

What would be your Mastermind special subject?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Ovid. Both are intensely serious, as well as funny. Both wield myths to talk about their modern world. Both are subjects I’d like to revise.

Which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live in?

The future. As far as possible. Not to live, though – just to visit.

Who would paint your portrait?

I’d like [the 16th-century Dutch painter] Jan van Scorel, please, with the same affection and knowingness as his portrait of Agatha van Schoonhoven. They lived together and had six children, even though he was a canon and couldn’t marry.

What’s your theme tune?

A Jewish song that goes: “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor . . .” It translates as: “It’s not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to refrain from it.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? And have you followed it?

I know how this sounds, but my deceased grandmother appeared to me in a dream once and told me something I can’t share. But I did follow her advice and it was excellent. (Thanks, Booba and/or my subconscious.)

What’s currently bugging you?

Brexit. I want to start a campaign called “Back in 30” – to get us back into the EU by 2030, when Remainers (or Rejoiners) will almost certainly be a convincing majority.

What single thing would make your life better?

I wish that Gordon Brown had called a snap election in 2007.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I think I would have enjoyed running a business (and I sort of do run one now, with the video games). I’ve got the brain for systems and a head for figures. But all these daydreams end with: “And I could carve out time to write.”

Are we all doomed?

No. The species will continue, whatever apocalypse we manage to unleash. It just won’t be much fun to live through.

Naomi Alderman’s novel “The Power” (Penguin) is shortlisted for the Baileys Prize

Yes, you could skip brunch and save for a deposit on a house. But why?

By Felicity Cloake from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

You'd be missing out. 

There’s a tiny café round the corner from me, a place so small that you have to leave your Bugaboo pushchair outside (a serious consideration in this part of the world), which has somehow become famous across town for its brunch. At weekends, the queue spills on to the road, with people patiently waiting for up to an hour for pancakes, poached eggs and pondy-looking juices served in jam jars. The food is just as good later on, yet there’s rarely much of a line after 2pm, because brunch is cool in a way that lunch isn’t. Where lunch is quotidian, brunch feels decadent – a real weekend treat.

Though the phenomenon is hardly new – the term was coined by a Brit back in 1895 – brunch has always been more popular in the United States than here, possibly because it’s a meal that you generally go out for and eating out has long been more affordable, and thus common, across the pond. Despite our proud greasy-spoon heritage, the idea of brunch as an occasion with a distinct character, rather than just a wickedly late breakfast, is relatively recent, and it owes much to the increasing informality of 21st-century life.

The Little Book of Brunch by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing revels in the freedom that the occasion bestows upon the cook, falling as it does outside the long-established conventions of the three-meal
structure. “It’s the meal where you can get away with anything,” they write.

By way of proof, along with eggs Benedict and buttermilk waffles, the book features such novelties as ’nduja-and-egg pizza, spaghetti frittatas and lentil falafels – dishes that you could quite respectably serve for lunch or dinner, yet also contain the cosseting, comforting qualities necessary in a first meal of the day.

Though such culinary experimentation is no doubt attractive to the increasingly adventurous British palate, I suspect that the arrival on these shores of the “bottomless brunch”, a hugely popular trend in the US, may also have something to do with our new enthusiasm for the meal – to the concern of health experts, given that Americans seem better able to grasp the idea of drinking as many Bloody Marys as they can handle, rather than as many as they want.

As David Shaftel put it in an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, wonderfully, “Brunch is for jerks”, this meal is “about throwing out not only the established schedule but also the social conventions of our parents’ generation . . . revelling in the naughtiness of waking up late, having cocktails at breakfast and eggs all day. It’s the mealtime equivalent of a Jeff Koons sculpture.”

The Australian social commentator Bernard Salt agrees, blaming this taste for “smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop” for the younger generation’s failure to grow up, take responsibility and save enough money to buy a house. But as critics observed, house prices in Sydney, like those in the UK, are now so high that you’d have to forgo your weekly avo toast for 175 years in order to put together a deposit, and so, perhaps, it’s not unreasonable to want to live in the moment instead. “We are not going out for brunch instead of buying houses: we are brunching because we cannot afford to buy houses,” as the journalist Brigid Delaney wrote in response.

Baby boomers got the free education, the generous pensions and the houses and left us with shakshuka, sourdough and a flat white. Seems like a fair deal. 

Where Labour has no chance, hold your nose and vote Lib Dem

By Peter Wilby from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

May's gamble, MacKenzie's obsession and Wisden obituaries - Peter Wilby's First Thoughts.

In 2007 Gordon Brown allowed rumours to circulate that he would call an early general election for the spring of 2008. When he failed to do so, he was considered a coward and a ditherer and never recovered. Theresa May has tried a different strategy. After firmly denying that she would call an early election and killing off speculation about one, she suddenly announced an election after all. Will this work better for her than the opposite worked for Brown?

The Prime Minister risks being seen as a liar and an opportunist. Her demand for “unity” at Westminster is alarming, because it suggests that there is no role for opposition parties on the most important issue of the day. If Labour and the Lib Dems are smart enough to co-operate sufficiently to rally the country against what looks like an attempt to instal an authoritarian, right-wing Tory regime, May, even if she wins the election, could find herself weakened, not strengthened. I never thought I would write this but, in constituencies where Labour has no chance, its supporters should hold their noses and vote Lib Dem.

Taken for granted

I wonder if May, before she took her decision, looked at the precedents of prime ministers who called unnecessary elections when they already had comfortable parliamentary majorities. In 1974, after three and a half years in office, Edward Heath, with a Tory majority of 30, called a “Who runs Britain?” election during a prolonged dispute with the miners. He lost. In 1923, Stanley Baldwin, a new Tory leader sitting on a majority of 75 obtained by his predecessor just a year earlier, called an election because he wished to introduce tariffs, an issue strikingly similar to the one raised by Brexit. He also lost. The lesson, I think (and hope), is that prime ministers take the electorate for granted at their peril.

China’s long game

Commentators compare the crisis ­involving North Korea and the US with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. It doesn’t feel that way to me. For several days that year, nuclear war seemed, to my 17-year-old mind, all but inevitable. I went to the cinema one afternoon and felt surprise when I emerged three hours later to find the world – or, at least, the city of Leicester – going about its business as normal. Two nuclear powers were in direct confrontation. The US threatened to invade communist Cuba to remove Soviet missiles and blockaded the island to prevent deliveries of more weapons. Soviet ships sailed towards the US navy. It wasn’t easy to imagine a compromise, or who would broker one. Nobody doubted that the two sides’ weapons would work. The Soviet Union had carried out nearly 200 nuclear tests. North Korea has claimed just five.

For all the talk of intercontinental missiles, North Korea at present isn’t a credible threat to anybody except possibly its neighbours, and certainly not to the US or Britain. It is in no sense a geopolitical or economic rival to the US. Donald Trump, who, like everybody else, finds the Middle East infernally complicated, is looking for an easy, short-term victory. The Chinese will probably arrange one for him. With 3,500 years of civilisation behind them, they are accustomed to playing the long game.

Mussel pains

Whenever I read Kelvin MacKenzie’s columns in the Sun, I find him complaining about the size of mussels served by the Loch Fyne chain, a subject on which he happens to be right, though one wonders why he doesn’t just order something else. Otherwise, he writes badly and unfunnily, often aiming abuse at vulnerable people such as benefit claimants. It’s a new departure, however, to insult someone because they were on the receiving end of what MacKenzie calls “a nasty right-hander”, apparently unprovoked, in a Liverpool nightclub. He called the victim, the Everton and England footballer Ross Barkley, who has a Nigerian grandfather, “one of our dimmest footballers” and likened him to “a gorilla at the zoo”.
The paper has suspended MacKenzie, a former Sun editor, and Merseyside Police is investigating him for racism, though he claims he didn’t know of Barkley’s ancestry.

Several commentators express amazement that Sun editors allowed such tripe to be published. It was not, I think, a mistake. Britain has no equivalent of America’s successful alt-right Breitbart website, disruptively flinging insults at all and sundry and testing the boundaries of what it calls “political correctness”, because our alt right is already established in the Sun, Express and Mail. To defend their position, those papers will continue to be as nasty as it takes.

Over and out

Easter is the time to read the cricket annual Wisden and, as usual, I turn first to the obituaries. Unlike newspaper obituaries, they record failures as well as successes – those who managed just a few undistinguished performances in first-class cricket and, most poignantly, some who promised much but died early. We learn of a 22-year-old Indian who, during demonstrations against the alleged molestation of a schoolgirl, was shot dead by police and whose grieving mother (invoking the name of one of India’s greatest batsmen) cried, “Bring my Gavaskar back!” In England, two young men drowned, having played one first-class match each, and a 22-year-old Sussex fast bowler, described as “roguish” and “enormously popular”, fell off a roof while celebrating New Year with friends in Scotland. In South Africa, a young batsman was among five municipal employees killed when their truck crashed; the local mayor fled the funeral as his workmates “chanted menacingly” about unpaid wages.

Among the better-known deaths is that of Martin Crowe, probably New Zealand’s best batsman. In a Test match, he once got out on 299 and reckoned the near-miss contributed to the cancer that killed him at 53. “It tore at me like a vulture pecking dead flesh,” he said. Cricket can do that kind of thing to you. 

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How Leonora Carrington fled privilege and the Nazis to live the surrealist dream

By Yo Zushi from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

In this centenary year of her birth, Carrington is at last receiving the attention she deserves.

“When France sneezes,” the 19th-century Austrian chancellor Klemens von Metter­nich once said, “Europe catches cold.” France was no less contagious in the first decades of the 20th century, when Paris became the cultural capital of the Western world. Cubism, fauvism, Dada and surrealism were incubated in its galleries and cafés, where artists of various nationalities dreamed up new ways to blast away the past, among them Gertrude Stein, Marie Laurencin, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. But when the Nazis arrived, the City of Light went dark, and expats in Paris – as well as those such as the German surrealist Max Ernst, holed up in the French countryside and branded “degenerate” in his homeland – needed to escape, and fast. This was a European war, many decided, and salvation lay in the United States.

Portugal, facing the Atlantic and officially neutral in the conflict, offered the surest way to the Americas. And so Lisbon became “the great embarkation point”, as the film Casablanca described it in 1942. The British journalist Hugh Muir observed that the churn of diplomats, spies and refugees passing through left the local population “much as they were”; they inhabited not the Portuguese capital but a Lisbon of their own making that happened to share its geography.
Those with the means filled the best hotels. Those without scraped by in boarding houses, doing what they could to survive.

The hitherto sleepy seaport was transformed. By October 1941, the Irish Times was declaring Lisbon “the hub of the Western universe”. On the city’s news-stands, vendors sold the British Daily Mail alongside the New York Times, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and the Falangist Arriba, free from censorship and without segregation on the shelves by language. The newspapers were a welcome distraction for their readers, who had plenty of time to read. It could take months for the necessary travel documents to come through, and most people seeking safe passage to the US had little choice but to wait, and wait, and wait.

One of those waiting was a Mexican called Renato Leduc, who as a teenager had fought for Pancho Villa’s forces in his country’s calamitous civil war. Since then, Leduc had studied law and become a poet, before drifting into a job at the Mexican embassy in Paris, where he struck up friendships with the surrealists André Breton and Paul ­Éluard. At a dinner party in the spring of 1938, he met – and was charmed by – a young Englishwoman called Leonora Carrington, then Max Ernst’s lover. Three years had passed since that fleeting encounter in France and now Leduc was living with Carrington in the Alfama district of Lisbon, pressing administrators to confirm the date when they could be married at the British embassy.

Yet it wasn’t love that bound Carrington to Leduc. Born into new money on 6 April 1917, Carrington spent her childhood at Crookhey Hall, a mansion in Lancashire standing in 17 acres of gardens and woodland. Her father, Harold, was an ambitious textile manufacturer who, to the young Leonora, resembled “a mafioso” in his disciplinarian manner. When her mother, Maurie, gave her a copy of Herbert Read’s book Surrealism, published to coincide with the movement’s landmark London exhibition in summer 1936, Carrington was intrigued and visited the show. There she was exhilarated by the work of one artist in particular – Max Ernst – and, through connections at the art school where she was studying, she arranged an ­introduction to him at the Highgate home of the architect Ernö Goldfinger.

Carrington, an instinctive rebel who had been forced by her parents to “come out” as a debutante at Buckingham Palace not long before, instantly fell for the German artist, despite their age gap of 26 years. “From the second they set eyes on one another,” writes Carrington’s cousin Joanna Moorhead in her new biography, “the electricity is palpable between the beautiful, sparky young woman with her dark eyes, crimson lips and cascade of raven curls, and the white-haired, slim, middle-aged man with his lined forehead and kind-looking eyes.” That almost obscenely cliché-ridden description seems to have strayed on to the pages from a bad romance novel, but what is love but a big cliché we can believe in, and can’t help but do so?

Perhaps “cliché” isn’t quite the right word for anything to do with Carrington, however, because her life was an extended refutation of convention. The love between her and Ernst was more correctly of a mythic order, or, at least, it is presented as such in Moorhead’s account (“Max Ernst has met his bride of the wind, and Leonora Carrington has met her saviour . . .”). And mythic is the register that she explored as a painter and writer, first among the surrealists in France and then as one of a small group of like-minded artists in Mexico, where she moved towards the end of the Second World War. In striking works such as The Giantess (c.1947), with its towering woman tenderly guarding a small egg, she invented a kind of symbolic code that channelled the occult and the Renaissance masters to suggest a subliminal life larger than what tasteful language could reasonably convey.

Despite their obvious attraction, Ernst and Carrington seemed mismatched to her father. Ernst was twice married, German and, worse, an artist – one who delighted in flouting the social hierarchies that Harold had so studiously climbed. So, like the “old gentleman” in Carrington’s short story “The Oval Lady” who burns his daughter’s favourite wooden horse (“What I’m going to do is purely for your own good,” he says), Harold attempted to have Ernst deported to Hitler’s Germany on bogus pornography charges, hoping to end the relationship.

What followed was a family bust-up that left Carrington an exile for the rest of her life. The couple fled to Cornwall and then Paris to live among the surrealists, ignoring Harold’s warnings that they would “die without money”. He would stop her allowance, he said, but she didn’t care. She was leaving home – not just for Ernst, not just for the thrills and wonders of a new artistic milieu, but for “a whole new beginning” (another of Moorhead’s romance novel phrases but, again, perfectly true).

The Paris interlude was a blessed one. The couple took up residence in Saint Germain a few metres down the road from Picasso; he would drop by to dine and dance in their kitchen, a bottle of wine in his hand. Dalí was another friend, as were Man Ray, Elsa Schiaparelli and Marcel Duchamp. While in the city, the surrealists held an exhibition at the Galerie Beaux Arts featuring mannequins in a darkened room that visitors had to navigate using torches – one of the earliest examples of installation art.

Throughout this time, Carrington was developing her own work. She painted, she drew and she wrote, publishing a beguiling story called “The House of Fear” in 1938 in a limited edition with illustrations by Ernst – her first published writing and also, as Moorhead writes, “a kind of public acknowledgement of her relationship with Max”. His estranged second wife, Marie-Berthe, was understandably mortified by their romance;
to escape her scorn (and also that of the surrealists’ leader Breton, who had fallen out with Ernst over his friend Paul Éluard’s rejection of ­Trotskyism), the lovers moved south to the remote Ardèche region.

Their farmhouse was inhospitable and lacking in comfort, so they worked on the building, installing a terrace – but they also made an artwork of the building, adorning its surfaces with images of unicorns, winged creatures, lovers and horses. It was an idyllic and productive retreat but it came to an abrupt end. In 1939, Ernst was arrested as an enemy alien after France declared war on Germany. He was sent to an internment camp and released three months later; but in May 1940, after the Germans crossed the Maginot Line, he was arrested again. Unable to secure his freedom, Carrington fell into a deep depression and, by the time she was persuaded by friends to depart for Lisbon to escape the Nazis, she was beginning to lose all sense of reality.

Carrington later documented the decline of her mental health in Down Below, an extraordinary account of her life in a sanatorium in Madrid, to which she was committed after suffering paranoid delusions on her way to Portugal. Insanity, for her, took the form of a powerful “identification with the external world”, which somehow involved the hypnotic control of Europe by a Dutchman called Van Ghent (who was also “my father, my enemy, and the enemy of mankind”). In her introduction, Marina Warner notes that Carrington “had realised one of the most desirable ambitions of surrealism, the voyage down into madness”; yet, stripped of the playful intellectualism of the art movement, the “absolute disorientation” that Breton idealised is difficult to experience as a reader with much pleasure.

Carrington regained her freedom after reacquainting herself with Renato Leduc, who offered to marry her to facilitate her escape to New York: travel was easy for him because he was an embassy employee. In Lisbon, her mind slowly recovered and she prepared for a new life in the US. But, in that hub of the Western universe, it was hard to leave the past behind. One day, she glanced across a market and saw Max Ernst, who had been released by the French at last.

Carrington once said that she had only joined the surrealist group because she was in love with Ernst. However, being with him was never the sum total of her life. They travelled to New York together, but when Leduc returned to Mexico, she went with him, cutting ties with Ernst. Then she found a new love, a Hungarian expat called Csizi (“Chiki”) Weisz; they had two children (for whom she wrote stories, soon to be published by New York Review Books as The Milk of Dreams); she painted; she made new friends, most notably the Spanish-Mexican artist Remedios Varo. She lived, and on her own terms.

In this centenary year of her birth, Carrington, who died in 2011, is at last receiving the attention she deserves. Her shorter fiction, compiled in The Debutante and Other Stories, reveals an imagination that could transfigure horror into enchantment, and the human into the bestial. Yet her most significant achievement is her paintings. In Self-Portrait (1937-38), a wild-haired Carrington sits on a chair in front of a rocking horse, communing with a hyena. We see in the window behind her a real white horse, running free; our eyes are drawn to it by the room’s outlines. Surrealism prided itself in defying logic, but there is a logic here – one of emotional sense, if not literal meaning. Her life was made of multiple escapes. With that galloping horse, how vividly she evokes a longing for freedom. 

THE PIERRE AND MARIA-GAETANA MATISSE COLLECTION, 2002/© 2017 ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK

The 4 questions to ask any politician waffling on about immigration

By Jonathan Portes from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Like - if you're really worried about overcrowding, why don't you ban Brits from moving to London? 

As the general election campaigns kick off, Theresa May signalled that she intends to recommit herself to the Conservatives’ target to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands.” It is a target that many – including some of her own colleagues - view as unattainable, undesirable or both. It is no substitute for a policy. And, in contrast to previous elections, where politicians made sweeping pledges, but in practice implemented fairly modest changes to the existing system, Brexit means that radical reform of the UK immigration system is not just possible but inevitable.

The government has refused to say more than it is “looking at a range of options”. Meanwhile, the Labour Party appears hopelessly divided. So here are four key questions for all the parties:

1. What's the point of a migration target?

Essentially scribbled on the back of an envelope, with no serious analysis of either its feasibility or desirability, this target has distorted UK immigration policy since 2010. From either an economic or social point of view, it is almost impossible to justify. If the concern is overall population levels or pressure on public services, then why not target population growth, including births and deaths? (after all, it is children and old people who account for most spending on public services and benefits, not migrant workers). In any case, given the positive fiscal impact of migration, these pressures are mostly a local phenomenon – Scotland is not overcrowded and there is no shortage of school places in Durham. Banning people from moving to London would be much better targeted.

And if the concern is social or cultural – the pace of change – it is bizarre to look at net migration, to include British citizens in the target, and indeed to choose a measure that makes it more attractive to substitute short-term, transient and temporary migrants for permanent ones who are more likely to settle and integrate. Beyond this, there are the practical issues, like the inclusion of students, and the difficulty of managing a target where many of the drivers are not directly under government control. Perhaps most importantly, actually hitting the target would have a substantial economic cost. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s estimates imply that hitting the target by 2021 – towards the end of the next Parliament – would cost about £6bn a year, compared to its current forecasts.

So the first question is, whether the target stays? If so, what are the specific policy measures that will ensure that, in contrast to the past, it is met? And what taxes will be increased, or what public services cut to fill the fiscal gap?

2. How and when will you end free movement? 

The government has made clear that Brexit means an end to free movement. Its white paper states:

“We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.”

But it hasn’t said when this will happen – and it has also stated there is likely to be an “implementation period” for the UK’s future economic and trading relationship with the remaining EU. The EU’s position on this is not hard to guess – if we want to avoid a damaging “cliff edge Brexit”, the easiest and simplest option would be for the UK to adopt, de facto or de jure, some version of the “Norway model”, or membership of the European Economic Area. But that would involve keeping free movement more or less as now (including, for example, the payment of in-work benefits to EU citizens here, since of course David Cameron’s renegotiation is now irrelevant).

So the second question is this – are you committed to ending free movement immediately after Brexit? Or do you accept that it might well be in the UK’s economic interest for it to continue for much or all of the next Parliament?

3. Will we still have a system that gives priority to other Europeans?

During the referendum campaign, Vote Leave argued for a “non-discriminatory” system, under which non-UK nationals seeking to migrate to the UK would be treated the same, regardless of their country of origin (with a few relatively minor exceptions, non-EEA/Swiss nationals all currently face the same rules). And if we are indeed going to leave the single market, the broader economic and political rationale for very different immigration arrangements for EU and non-EU migrants to the UK (and UK migrants to the rest of the EU) will in part disappear. But the Immigration Minister recently said “I hope that the negotiations will result in a bespoke system between ourselves and the European Union.”

So the third question is whether, post-Brexit, our immigration system could and should give preferential access to EU citizens? If so, why?

4. What do you actually mean by reducing "low-skilled" migration? 

One issue on which the polling evidence appears clear is that the British public approves of skilled migration – indeed, wants more of it- but not of migration for unskilled jobs. However, as I point out here, most migrants – like most Brits – are neither in high or low skilled jobs. So politicians should not be allowed to get away with saying that they want to reduce low-skilled migration while still attracting the “best and the brightest”.

Do we still want nurses? Teachers? Care workers? Butchers? Plumbers and skilled construction workers? Technicians? If so, do you accept that this means continuing high levels of economic migration? If not, do you accept the negative consequences for business and public services? 

Politicians and commentators have been saying for years "you can't talk about immigration" and "we need an honest debate." Now is the time for all the parties to stop waffling and give us some straight answers; and for the public to actually have a choice over what sort of immigration policy – and by implication, what sort of economy and society – we really want.

 

 

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The Day That Went Missing: a memoir that breaks all the rules

By Marina Benjamin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Richard Beard's book is brimful of anger and guilt, fails to deliver an uplifting ending and opens with a death.

The Day That Went Missing: a Family’s Story, by Richard Beard

Harvill Secker, 278pp, £14.99

This memoir breaks all the rules. It’s brimful of anger and guilt, fails to deliver an uplifting ending and opens with a death. In the sea off the Cornish coast, the author, aged 11, is jumping the waves along with his brother Nicky, aged nine. It is August 1978. They are trying to outdo each other, joshing in the water; but then a rip current catches Nicky, pulling him out and sucking the sand from beneath his feet. A last image is burned in Beard’s brain: Nicky paddling madly and whining, “his head back, ligaments straining in his neck, his mouth in a tight line to keep out the seawater”. The next moment, responding to a deep instinct to save himself, Beard turns his back on his brother in a frenzied break for the shore.

All his life, Beard writes, he has “made a habit of looking away”. With this book – born of a midlife wobble, a dissatisfaction with being “insufficient in feeling” – he is determined to face down the dreadful events of that day and bulldoze the walls of denial that his family began erecting immediately after Nicky’s funeral, when they returned to the same house (and beach) in Cornwall to finish their holiday as if nothing had happened.

But now there’s so little of Nicky left: a gravestone that gives no date of death, a memorial at the boys’ Berkshire boarding school, a chapel dedication. Beard’s father, who with his determined silence imposed a moratorium on discussing Nicky, is now dead, too, and his living brothers’ recollections are as hazy as his own. At his mother’s house, a suitcase in the attic stows Nicky’s scant belongings, out of sight and mind, and there is a bunch of condolence letters whose well-intentioned inanities Beard quotes to good effect throughout the book, ­showing up the poverty of our language in acknowledging grief. “Death in these letters is character-forming, like a traditional English education,” he remarks at one point.

Beard revisits the holiday house, where difficult memories surface of his boyhood self, pretending to cope while falling apart. He cries uncontrollably as he walks along the cliffs to the beach where Nicky died. “My eyes are leaking,” he writes, another reminder of how he has been drilled not to feel (his boarding school, co-conspirator in denial, does not come off well here).

Beard’s mother hides behind revisionism. She tells him that Nicky was “hopeless at games, and not very brainy”. By believing this, he writes, she can believe that he didn’t have the strength or cleverness to outwit the sea. Another distancing mechanism: his mother points out that Nicky bore little physical resemblance to his three brothers. Beard drily notes how this helps account for Nicky’s erasure: “He wasn’t genuinely one of us – a reason for forgetting him that would make sense, in a novel.”

Making sense of life in novels is what Beard does for a living: in 2011’s Lazarus Is Dead, he even gave his central character a brother who drowns. And his novelist self protects him still, here. While reading (and finding flaws with) the condolence letters, he relies on his inner literary critic to “fend away the risk of genuine empathy”; stumbling on precious references to Nicky’s personality in school reports, he expresses a wariness of short cuts to character. Yet even the denial that serves him professionally breaks down when he comes across stories he published in his school magazine when he was 12 and 13 – one about a diver crippled by fear of water, another about a consummate actor who can’t keep up a performance: he keeps fluffing his lines.

Scraping away this final layer of self-protection creates a certain freedom. It allows Beard to be crazy angry at his father, who had cancer in 1978 and a lousy prognosis with it, and therefore had nothing to lose by jumping into the waves to save his son. And yet he didn’t do it.

Beard is angry at Nicky, too – “stubborn little bastard”. His brother, it turns out, was far from hopeless at sport. School reports indicate that he excelled at it, that he was ­indefatigable, competitive, ambitious. Beard hated him for that, for showing him up, for being the more talented sibling. Once, he punched Nicky in the face but there was no running away to tell on him in response. Nicky bore the punch, showing his brother who was the bigger of them. “I didn’t like him,” writes Beard, and so he goaded Nicky into the sea. “I was older and it was my idea. I left him out of his depth and drowning and I didn’t try to save him, not really. I was busy saving myself.” This is the stuff of true grieving and remorse, the acid peel of genuine soul-searching, whose sting few of us are capable of bearing. And it sings.

Beard has written an enriching rather than uplifting book. It deals in difficult truths. It insists that we can hate those we love; that forgetting is hard work and more damaging than remembering; and that grief will hound us to the end. It also tells us that brothers are more important than we might ever credit. 

Marina Benjamin’s “The Middlepause” (Scribe) is now available in paperback

The end of solitude: in a hyperconnected world, are we losing the art of being alone?

By Paul Kingsnorth from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

In the end, Solitude feels a bit like an amiable cop-out. 

Michael Harris is a Canadian writer who lives in a big city and whose life is defined and circumscribed, as so many Western lives are now, by digital technologies. He finds it hard to leave his phone at home in case he misses anything. He worries about his social media reputation. He uses apps and plays games, and relies on the internet hive mind to tell him which films to watch or where to eat. Here is what happens when he goes on holiday to Paris:

Disembarking from the train from London, I invited a friendly app to guide me to a hotel near the Pompidou . . . The next morning, Yelp guided me towards a charming café in the Marais. There, wizard-like, I held my phone over the menu and waited for Google Translate to melt the words into English. When the waiter arrived, I spoke into my phone and had it repeat my words to the grinning garçon in a soft, robotic French. Later, at the Louvre, I allowed a Nintendo-sponsored guidance system to track my steps up the centuries-old Daru staircase as I squinted confusedly at its glowing blue you-are-here dot . . .

Terrifying, isn’t it? Well, I thought so as I read it, and Harris thought so afterwards. It was situations like this, during which he realised that his life was controlled, confined and monitored by distancing technologies, that led him to wonder whether solitude – the act and the art of being alone – was in danger of disappearing.

Harris has an intuition that being alone with ourselves, paying attention to inner silence and being able to experience outer silence, is an essential part of being human. He can remember how it felt to do this, before the internet brought its social anxiety and addiction into his life. “I began to remember,” he writes, “a calm separateness, a sureness I once could live inside for an easy hour at a time.”

What happens when that calm separateness is destroyed by the internet of everything, by big-city living, by the relentless compulsion to be with others, in touch, all the time? Plenty of people know the answer already, or would do if they were paying attention to the question. Nearly half of all Americans, Harris tells us, now sleep with their smartphones on their bedside table, and 80 per cent are on their phone within 15 minutes of waking up. Three-quarters of adults use social networking sites regularly. But this is peanuts compared to the galloping development of the so-called Internet of Things. Within the next few years, anything from 30 to 50 billion objects, from cars to shirts to bottles of shampoo, will be connected to the net. The internet will be all around you, whether you want it or not, and you will be caught in its mesh like a fly. It’s not called the web for nothing.

I may not be the ideal reader for this book. By page 20, after a few more facts of this sort, I had already found myself scrawling “Kill everyone!” in the margins. This is not really the author’s fault. I often start behaving like this whenever I’m forced to read a list of ways in which digital technology is wrecking human existence. There are lots of lists like this around at the moment, because the galloping, thoughtless, ongoing rush to connect everything to the web has overcome our society like a disease. Did you know that cows are now connected to the internet? On page 20, Harris tells us that some Swiss dairy cows, sim cards implanted in their necks, send text messages to their farmers when they are on heat and ready to be inseminated. If this doesn’t bring out your inner Unabomber, you’re probably beyond help. Or maybe I am.

What is the problem here? Why does this bother me, and why does it bother Harris? The answer is that all of these things intrude upon, and threaten to destroy, something ancient and hard to define, which is also the source of much of our creativity and the essence of our humanity. “Solitude,” Harris writes, “is a resource.” He likens it to an ecological niche, within which grow new ideas, an understanding of the self and therefore an understanding of others.

The book is full of examples of the genius that springs from silent and solitary moments. Beethoven, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Einstein, Newton – all developed their ideas and approach by withdrawing from the crowd. Peter Higgs, the Nobel ­Prizewinner who discovered the Higgs boson particle, did his best work in peace and solitude in the 1960s. He suggests that what he did then would be impossible today, because it is now virtually impossible to find such solitude in the field of science.

Collaboration, not individuality, is fetishised today, in business as in science and the arts, but Harris warns that collaboration often results in conformism. In the company of others, most of us succumb to pressure to go with the crowd. Alone, we have more chance to be thoughtful, to see differently, to enter a place where we feel free from the mob to moderate our unique experience of the world. Without solitude, he writes, genius – which ultimately springs from different ways of thinking and seeing – becomes impossible. If Thoreau’s cabin in the woods had had wifi, we would never have got Walden.

Yet it is not only geniuses who have a problem: ordinary minds like yours and mine are threatened by the hypersocial nature of always-on urbanity. A ­civilisation can be judged by the quality of its daydreams, Harris suggests. Who daydreams now? Instead of staring out of the window on a train, heads are buried in smartphones, or wired to the audio of a streaming film. Instead of idling at the bus stop, people are loading up entertainment: mobile games from King, the maker of Candy Crush, were played by 1.6 billion times every day in the first quarter of 2015 alone.

If you’ve ever wondered at the behaviour of those lines of people at the train station or in the street or in the café, heads buried in their phones like zombies, unable or unwilling to look up, Harris confirms your worst fears. The developers of apps and games and social media sites are dedicated to trapping us in what are called ludic loops. These are short cycles of repeated actions which feed our brain’s desire for reward. Every point you score, every candy you crush, every retweet you get gives your brain a dopamine hit that keeps you coming back for more. You’re not having a bit of harmless fun: you are an addict. A tech corporation has taken your solitude and monetised it. It’s not the game that is being played – it’s you.

So, what is to be done about all this? That’s the multibillion-dollar question, but it is one the book cannot answer. Harris spends many pages putting together a case for the importance of solitude and examining the forces that splinter it today. Yet he also seems torn in determining how much of it he wants and can cope with. He can see the damage being done by the always-on world but he lives in the heart of it, all his friends are part of it, and he doesn’t want to stray too far away. He understands the value of being alone but doesn’t like it much, or want to experience it too often. He’ll stop checking his Twitter analytics but he won’t close down his account.

At the end of the book, Harris retreats, Thoreau-like, to a cabin in the woods for a week. As I read this brief last chapter, I found myself wishing it was the first, that he had spent more time in the cabin, that he had been starker and more exploratory, that he had gone further. Who will write a Walden for the Internet Age? This book is thick with fact and argument and some fine writing, but there is a depth that the author seems afraid to plumb. Perhaps he is afraid of what he might find down there.

In the end, Solitude feels a bit like an amiable cop-out. After 200 pages of increasingly disturbing facts about the impact of technology and crowded city living on everything from our reading habits to our ability to form friendships, and after warning us on the very last page that we risk making “an Easter Island of the mind”, the author goes back home to Vancouver, tells his boyfriend that he missed him, and then . . . well, then what? We don’t know. The book just ends. We are left with the impression that the pile-up of evidence leads to a conclusion too vast for the author, and perhaps his readers, to take in, because to do that would be to challenge everything.

In this, Solitude mirrors the structure of many other books of its type: the Non-Fiction Warning Book (NFWB), we might call it. It takes a subject – disappearing childhood; disappearing solitude; disappearing wilderness; disappearing anything, there’s so much to choose from – trots us through several hundred pages of anecdotes, science,
interviews and stories, all of which build up to the inescapable conclusion that everything is screwed . . . and then pulls back. It’s like being teased by an expert hustler. Yes, technology is undermining our sense of self and creating havoc for our relationships with others, but the solution is not to stop using it, just to moderate it. Yes, overcrowded cities are destroying our minds and Planet Earth, but the solution is not to get out of the cities: it’s to moderate them in some way, somehow.

Moderation is always the demand of the NFWB, aimed as it is at mainstream readers who would like things to get better but who don’t really want to change much – or don’t know how to. This is not to condemn Harris, or his argument: most of us don’t want to change much or know how to. What books of this kind are dealing with is the problem of modernity, which is intractable and not open to moderation. Have a week away from your screen if you like, but the theft of human freedom by the machine will continue without you. The poet Robinson Jeffers once wrote about sitting on a mountain and looking down on the lights of a city, and being put in mind of a purse seine net, in which sardines swim unwittingly into a giant bag, which is then drawn tightly around them. “I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together into interdependence; we have built the great cities; now/There is no escape,” he wrote. “The circle is closed, and the net/Is being hauled in.”

Under the circumstances – and these are our circumstances – the only honest conclusion to draw is that the problem, which is caused primarily by the technological direction of our society, is going to get worse. There is no credible scenario in which we can continue in the same direction and not see the problem of solitude, or lack of it, continue to deepen.

Knowing this, how can Harris just go home after a week away, drop off his bag and settle back into his hyperconnected city life? Does he not have a duty to rebel, and to tell us to rebel? Perhaps. The problem for this author is our shared problem, however, at a time in history when the dystopian predictions of Brave New World are already looking antiquated. Even if Harris wanted to rebel, he wouldn’t know how, because none of us would. Short of a collapse so severe that the electricity goes off permanently, there is no escape from what the tech corporations and their tame hive mind have planned for us. The circle is closed, and the net is being hauled in. May as well play another round of Candy Crush while we wait to be dragged up on to the deck. 

Paul Kingsnorth's latest book, “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” (Faber & Faber)

Nicola Snothum / Millenium Images

Mare Nostrum: The NS poem

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

The NS poem.

Make sure you get some real open-water practice. The worst thing you can do is just jump in and start swimming

Guardian Weekend

An odyssey we’ve learnt to call it as night pitches them into obscurity, toy boats belly-up in bits, adverts for a better life. Troy is far behind on the Turkish coast, Greece and Rome and Germany and Dover somewhere in the unpronounceable future. Children and babies sleep on mounds of luggage; a man is shouting I wish we’d all died back there in the flames: pious Aeneas – refugee, widower – cursing god between retches. Everything is wrapped in black plastic bin-bags to keep out the sea and for the shopkeepers of Izmir life-jackets bring much-needed business. In a wetsuit you should feel slightly vacuum-packed but not restricted. Nobody knows if they will leave tonight or next week. Everyone here is waiting. Lift your head as little as possible, otherwise your hips sink. Think crocodile eyes.

Lesley Saunders has published six poetry collections. Her 2016 chapbook, Periplous, is published by Shearsman Books

 

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How English identity politics will shape the 2017 general election

By John Denham from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

"English" voters are more likely to vote Conservative and Ukip. But the Tories are playing identity politics in Scotland and Wales too. 

Recent polls have challenged some widely shared assumptions about the direction of UK elections. For some time each part of the UK has seemed to be evolving quite distinctly. Different political cultures in each nation were contested by different political parties and with different parties emerging victorious in each.

This view is now being challenged. Early general election surveys that show the Tories leading in Wales and taking up to a third of the vote in Scotland. At first sight, this looks a lot more like 1997 (though less enjoyable for Labour): an increasingly hegemonic mainland party only challenged sporadically and in certain places.

Is this, then, a return to "politics as normal"? Perhaps the Tories are becoming, once again, the Conservative and Unionist Party. Maybe identity politics is getting back into its box post Brexit, the decline of Ukip, and weak support for a second independence referendum. We won’t really know until the election is over. However, I doubt that we’ve seen the back of identity politics. It may actually bite more sharply than ever before.

Although there’s talk about "identity politics" as a new phenomenon, most votes have always been cast on a sense of "who do I identify with?" or "who will stand up for someone like us?" Many voters take little notice of the ideology and policy beloved of activists, often voting against their "objective interests" to support a party they trust. The new "identity politics" simply reflects the breakdown of long-established political identities, which were in turn based on social class and collective experiences. In their place, come new identities based around people, nations and place. Brexit was never really about the technocratic calculation of profit and loss, but about what sort of country we are becoming, and what we want to be. 

Most social democratic parties in Europe are struggling with this change. Labour is no different. At the start of the general election, it faces a perfect storm of changing identities. Its relationship with working-class voters continues to decline. This is not because the working class has disappeared, but because old industries, with their large workplaces, shared communities and strong unions are no longer there to generate a labour identity. 

Labour is badly adrift in England. The English electorate has become increasingly assertive (and increasingly English). The Brexit vote was most strongly endorsed by the voters who felt most intensely English. In the previous year’s general election, it was fear of Scottish National Party influence on a Labour minority government that almost certainly gave the Tories the English seats needed for an overall majority. In that same election, Labour’s support amongst "English only" voters was half its support amongst "British only" voters. The more "English" the voters, the more likely they were to vote Ukip or Conservative. It shouldn’t be a surprise if Ukip voters now go Tory. Those who think that Ukip somehow groomed Labour voters to become Tories are missing the crucial role that identity may be playing.

So strong are these issues that, until recently, it looked as though the next election - whenever it was called - would be an English election - fought almost entirely in English battlegrounds, on English issues, and by a Tory party that was, increasingly, an English National Conservative Party in all but name. Two powerful identity issues are confounding that assumption.

Brexit has brought a distinctly British issue into play. It is enabling the Tories to consolidate support as the Brexit party in England, and at the same time reach many Leave voters in Wales, and maybe Scotland too. This serendipitous consequence of David Cameron’s referendum doesn’t mean the Tories are yet fully transformed. The Conservative Party in England is indeed increasingly focused on England. Its members believe devolution has harmed England and are remarkably sanguine about a break up of the union. But the new ability to appeal to Leave voters outside England is a further problem for Labour. The Brexit issue also cuts both ways. Without a clear appeal cutting through to Leave and Remain voters, Labour will be under pressure from both sides.

North of the border, the Tories seemed to have found - by accident or design - the way to articulate a familial relationship between the party in Scotland and the party in England. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson appears to combine conservatism, unionism and distance from English politics more successfully than Scottish Labour, which must ride the two horses of "near home rule" and committed unionism. Scottish Labour has a perfectly good call for a reformed union, but it is undermined by the failure of Labour in England to mobilise enough popular support to make the prospect credible.

Identity politics is not, of course, the be all and end all of politics. Plenty of voters do cast their ballots on the traditional tests of leadership, economic competence, and policy. Labour’s campaign will have to make big inroads here too. But, paradoxically, Labour’s best chance of a strong result lies in taking identity politics head on, and not trying to shift the conversation onto bread and butter policy, as the leaked "talking points" seem to suggest. Plenty of voters will worry what Theresa May would do with the untrammelled power she seeks. Challenging her right or ability to speak for the nation, as Keir Starmer has done, is Labour’s best bet.

 

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Ode to a philistine: Howard Jacobson's Pussy

By Douglas Kennedy from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

 As can be gathered from the title, Jacobson’s target is the current president of the United States.

In his heyday George S Kaufman was noted for being one of Broadway’s most expert writers of comedy and a sardonic mainstay of the group of New York wits that comprised the Algonquin Round Table. As such, he knew a thing or two about the ­dangers of what could best be described as the lengthy lampoon, once tartly noting after a play of his flopped out of town: “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.”

Kaufman was right on the money. The extended send-up of a hierarchical system or a personage is riddled with tonal problems and narrative traps. Do you deride a totalitarian brute by imitating him comically, as Chaplin did so brilliantly in his Hitler send-up, The Great Dictator? Do you enter the realm of dark metaphor – like Orwell’s vision of Stalinism in Animal Farm? Or do you attempt to recontextualise, in the form of absurdist fable, the fatuousness and repellence of a contemporary monster?

This is Howard Jacobson’s satiric strategy in his new novel, Pussy. As can be gathered from the title, Jacobson’s target is the current president of the United States: a gentleman whose absurdities and blowhard excesses give new meaning to the term “post-ironic” (except that there’s hardly anything ironic about a plutocrat/megalomaniac with direct access to the nuclear codes).

In what seems to be an act of frenzied fabulist invention – after all, the idiot was only elected five months ago – Jacobson reimagines the Trump saga in some fictive republic, Urbs-Ludus, which appears to be a cross between an eastern European absolute monarchy and the gimcrack, no-taste excess of Las Vegas ruled over by a Ceausescu-esque pooh-bah named the Grand Duke. He tells an academic he has summoned to his skyscraper court that he has a “little problem” within his immediate realm that needs urgent attention: his deeply wayward son Prince Fracassus.

To say that Fracassus is just a tad disturbed is to engage in massive understatement. He is someone whose verbal utterings explore the crazed outer reachers of Tourette’s syndrome (“Fuck, nigger, cunt” is his version of a casual aside; a way of expressing his impatience with underlings). When it comes to women, he is beyond Neanderthal. Looking up the skirts of one of his tutors, Dr Cobalt, he tries to entertain her with his imitations of the black slave in Gone With the Wind (“Lord, lordy Miss Scarlett”). When Dr Cobalt complains to the prince that “you have more words for prostitute than you have for women”, Fracassus accuses her of playing “a crooked game”.

Fracassus is proud of his philistinism, proud that all his worldly knowledge comes from what has been disseminated on television, happy to admit that whenever he sees Dr Cobalt one word comes into his head: “pussy”. And when he is taught how to tweet, his moronicism knows no bounds. Looking at his erection one morning and realising that, for the first time, he is thinking of someone other than himself, he tweets: “Great boner. Must be love.”

Pussy follows Fracassus’s rise from spoiled pubescent prince to television star to despot-in-ascendant. After his father’s death, he becomes a crazed master builder, putting casinos into poorhouses and strip clubs into old people’s homes. An architectural critic complains that you can no longer see the moon from downtown Urbs-Ludus, and when a member of the public – following his proclamation that “We’re going to muck out the pig pen” – shouts out that Fracassus himself is the pig pen, the great man replies with one word: “Retard.”

For anyone thinking that Pussy is a comic novel, beware: the book is relentlessly unfunny. But this should not be taken as a criticism; rather, a recognition of just how creepily well realised and bleak Jacobson’s vision of the Trump phenomenon turns out to be. Yes, it is written with immense, burlesque broad strokes and moments of satiric excess. But it also captures, with chilling accuracy, the way Trumpism is a reflection of the post-literate world we increasingly inhabit. In this world, universities are “abandoned cities”, consumerism has become the central cultural activity of hoi polloi, and avoiding tax is the plutocrat’s variation on a Holy Grail theme.

An elderly statesman from a nearby republic imparts to the prince this titbit of modern Machiavellian wisdom:

“You ask me are the people stupid. Very far from it. They can smell a fraud a thousand miles away. But ask me if they know what’s best for them, then the answer is a resounding no, because their besotting weakness is that they love a fraudster.”

Bullseye, Mr Jacobson. This is a novel that has much to say about how Mussolinis like Trump coerce others into succumbing to their profoundly myopic, Manichaean world-view by speaking to the worst within the human condition – and how so many among us want our own limitedness validated by a vainglorious potentate.

“It has been observed that mankind plays at life and only realises the seriousness of what it has done too late,” Jacobson writes. Which is another way of saying: we have no one to blame for the Trumps of the world but ourselves. 

Douglas Kennedy’s most recent novel is “The Heat of Betrayal” (Arrow). 

CHRIS RIDDELL

Voted Remain? How you can use the general election to kick out hard Brexiteers

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Open Britain, the European Movement and Britain for Europe will be sending volunteers to assist MPs who oppose hard Brexit. 

There’s no escaping the fact that Britain’s impending departure from the European Union hangs over this general election and all of the other issues it will throw up. Those who believe in an open, tolerant Britain, with strong links in our interests to our European neighbours, have a duty to stand up and fight against a destructive hard Brexit.

The Prime Minister made it very clear when she fired the starting gun on this general election that she felt this election would be about one thing and one thing only – Brexit. On the steps of 10 Downing Street, she called out all those who have raised valid questions about her approach to Brexit for “political game-playing”, and was unapologetically explicit in her aim to “make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done”, and to “make me stronger.”

This government has decided to pull the UK out of the single market and the customs union – and all the proven benefits they bring – before we have even got to the negotiating table. Ministers have discarded the best economic option from the get go, and persist in the belief that the nightmare scenario – Brexit with no deal, defaulting onto World Trade Organisation rules – would be “OK”, as Boris Johnson has said. They have failed to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. The government appears intent on a destructive hard Brexit that will put jobs at risk, cause investment to decrease and prices to rise. Pro-Europeans, of all parties and none, have a duty to stand up and fight against that hard Brexit path.

That is why Open Britain has come together with the European Movement and Britain for Europe to take the fight to hard Brexiteers on the ground in this election campaign. As the three biggest pro-European groups in Britain, with more than 600,000 supporters between us, we have volunteer groups the length and breadth of Britain.

We will be directing our activists to key seats during the election. In half of these, we will be challenging supporters of hard Brexit, like Iain Duncan Smith, Steve Baker, and Kate Hoey. Open Britain volunteers will get involved in the campaign for the candidate who is challenging them.

The other half are seats held by an MP who has been vocal in opposing a hard Brexit. These stretch from Lewes and St Ives to Belfast East and Edinburgh South. We are urging our activists to get involved in any way they want to and in whatever way will help the specific campaigns on the ground in those key seats, with the aim of securing the greatest possible representation of MPs who will fight against hard Brexit and for an open Britain in the next Parliament.

If we succeed in doing so, we can build a brighter future for Britain. We can stop this government cashing a blank cheque for hard Brexit, which would undermine our trading, security and diplomatic relationships with our European partners. We can secure a meaningful final vote on the Brexit deal for MPs, so they can hold the government to account for the divide between their rhetoric and reality. And we can put forward an alternative vision for Britain – one where jobs and businesses are protected, our workers’ rights and consumer protections are maintained, and Britain stays open and internationalist. If you would like to join us in this campaign, you can find out more details of how to get involved on our website.

James McGrory is the co-executive director of Open Britain.

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It's not every day a stark naked person tells you what you've done for Israel

By Maureen Lipman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

 I never learned the skill of being unselfconsciously naked in a room full of women.

I’m not Scandinavian and I never went to boarding school. Consequently, I never learned the skill of being unselfconsciously naked in a room full of women. Even now, the certain knowledge that everyone is thinking about her own imperfections, not mine, does nothing to mitigate my sense of exposure. I tell you this to set the scene for a Friday afternoon encounter at my local swimming baths.

Picture me, if you must, at the start of my seventh decade, hunched behind my locker, squirming out of my undies into a red costume as ancient and crinkly as Jill Archer’s voice in The Archers. My bathing suit straps were at my elbows and my trousers around my knees when I became aware that I was not alone. A small, beaming face hovered atop an elderly, uninhibitedly naked body.

The face was alight with pleasure. I know because I never took my eyes off it. She was very pleased to see me.

“You are Morrreen,” she told me. “Do you know det?”

I did. Inquiries followed as to what I was doing there and why she hadn’t known that I could swim. Then her wide smile – impossibly – widened and she asked, “Do you know vat you do?” I grappled for the answer, simultaneously grappling to pull on my swimsuit without fully removing my clothes.

“Do you know vat you do for Jewish people? You speak out on many tings. You speak out on Israel. Do you know det?”

Well, yes. To a fault, my children tell me. I actually believe that Ken Livingstone should be kept in the Labour Party to remind it of what it has become. Let him quietly decompose there and be remembered only for his greatest achievement: bendy buses. The withdrawal of which cost £12m a year. Several of which frequently burst into flames in Malta, to which they were sold.

My new friend’s praise, coupled with her cheerful nudity, left me as scarlet as my crinkly costume. Eventually, I broke for the pool with the ultimate accolade ringing in my ears: “Morrreen – you have made my Shabbat!”

But when I returned from my pathetic seven lengths, I was astounded to find her still there. Naked, but in a very different mood.

“My beg! My beg! Someone has stolen my beg!”

The other lady in the changing room (dry) joined me (damp) in the search for the handbag. Try as we might to ascertain where she’d last seen it, we could elicit no sensible reply. “I vill have to get a man to change the locks!” she said. “I lost my husband four years ago. All my bank cards I must change. No, I did not put it in a locker. I never use de lockers! For a pound! Vy vould I do det?”

Finally, the dry lady found the bag (yes, in a locker) and my naked friend shyly disappeared into a cubicle to dress. I offered to take her for a cup of tea but she was tired of my interference and wanted to be alone. I left feeling that the brief, terrifying loss of the bag was somehow my fault for distracting her attention. And despite my efforts to preserve my modesty, I’d still managed to expose myself. 

A woman at Brockwell Lido. Getty

In the takeaway, a woman utters the worst sentence in the English language

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Yes, even worse that "I don’t love you the way you want me to".

To the restaurant over the road. I have found an unexpected tenner in a pocket, and this very nicely covers the cost of a tasty portion of king prawn spicy noodles. Some of you may argue that I should be saving my pennies, not to mention my tenners, for less frivolous things, but after last week’s nerve-jangling encounter with the enormous wasp, I am in need of comfort. My hand is still shaking too violently to wield a saucepan, my dears.

I go straight up to the counter, as is my custom, for I know what I want and do not need to consult a menu. There is a flustered look on the face of the waitress there, as if some transgression has taken place. I look down to check my flies. No, they’re fine. (This has sometimes not been the case.) I place my order. She runs away.

Well, that’s a new one.

I have noticed over the years that Thai restaurants make a point, as do all restaurants with a certain cuisine, of only hiring staff from the country of that cuisine’s origin. I gather this is a big problem for curry houses, as the government clearly thinks there are enough dark-skinned people in this country. We don’t seem to have the same problem with Thais. But anyway, despite coming from a culture where those who serve do so with a smile, this waitress does a bolt.

Another takes her place.

“Can I have king prawn spicy noodles to take away? Not too spicy, please.” (The chilli can be wielded with a heavy hand, and the morning after is uncomfortable, to say the least.)

“We don’t do takeaways any more.”

There’s a celebrity quiz in the weekend magazine of a well-known newspaper which asks, “What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?” One always answers these questions for oneself and, in my case, my sure-fire answer would be “I don’t want you to live here any more”, or “I got that job in Sweden”, or “I don’t love you the way you want me to” – but now we have a new contender.

Dear sweet heaven, this is terrible news. I’d sit down, if there was a chair by the counter. As it happens, I very nearly fall in a faint to the floor. My speech comes spasmodically.

“Wh . . . why?” (I never thought people actually said “wh . . . why” but it turns out at least one does.)

Through the roaring sound of blood rushing through my brain, I gather something about preferring to concentrate on the diners on the premises. I suppose they have a point; but they used to do deliveries, too, on mopeds. It must have been a nice little earner.

“You can always sit in restaurant,” the waitress says.

“Can I?” I ask. I make a gesture, intended to indicate my attire, which is scruffy and could do with a wash. “Do you really want me sitting down here with . . .” With all the nice, clean people? I imply.

“We do your takeaway one last time, for you.”

I sob with gratitude, and the staff give me an extra after-dinner mint chocolate, which is really going it some, and I retire to the Hovel, and eat my king prawn spicy noodles, seasoned with columnist’s tears.

I’m worried about this neighbourhood. This is only the latest. I told you about the Sue Ryder shop closing down; well, it’s been re-let, and the person infesting it now is a very, very bad artist called Le Fil, who has put up some piss-poor, half-finished drawings of nudes, as well as some of cocks only, to show how groundbreaking he is.

A poster in the window contains the usual rubbish about challenging us to rethink our desires. Black crêpe paper, with eyeholes cut in it, has gone up in the windows, so we don’t have to look at his crappy art inadvertently as we pass. It really is terrible: I’m not exaggerating. The only explanation I’ve heard which makes any sense is that the whole operation might be a money-laundering enterprise by Russian gangsters – and the only interesting question raised there would be whether Le Fil was in on the joke or not.

So the neighbourhood decays. First Trump, then Brexit, now this. And now the Baker Street Sports Direct closing-down sale turns out, despite having lasted four years, really to have been a closing-down sale after all. I used to buy my cricket balls there, my white socks for my annual game with the Rain Men. Once again, the thought of moving to America beckons, if only as a beguiling fantasy. We’re screwed for decades, but Trump will last only four years, if that. 

Buffalo beauty contest held in Pakistan

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Competition creates awareness about "the importance of breeding this beautiful animal".

The Lib Dems' troubled start doesn't bode well for them

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Rows over homosexuality and anti-Semitism are obscuring the party's anti-Brexit stance.

Tim Farron has broken his silence on the question of whether or not gay sex is a sin. (He doesn't.)

Frankly, this isn't the start to the general election campaign that the Liberal Democrats would have wanted. Time that they hoped would be spent talking about how their man was the only one standing up to Brexit has instead been devoted to what Farron thinks about homosexuality.

Now another row may be opening up, this time about anti-Semitism in the Liberal Democrats after David Ward, the controversial former MP who among other things once wrote that "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians" has been re-selected as their candidate in Bradford East. That action, for many, makes a mockery of Farron's promise that his party would be a "warm home" for the community.

Politically, my hunch is that people will largely vote for the Liberal Democrats at this election because of who they're not: a Conservative party that has moved to the right on social issues and is gleefully implementing Brexit, a riven Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, etc. But both rows have hobbled Farron's dream that his party would use this election.

More importantly, they've revealed something about the Liberal Democrats and their ability to cope under fire. There's a fierce debate ongoing about whether or not what Farron's beliefs should matter at all. However you come down on that subject, it's been well-known within the Liberal Democrats that there were questions around not only Farron's beliefs but his habit of going missing for votes concerning homosexuality and abortion. It was even an issue, albeit one not covered overmuch by the press, in the 2015 Liberal Democrat leadership election. The leadership really ought to have worked out a line that would hold long ago, just as David Cameron did in opposition over drugs. (Readers with long memories will remember that Cameron had a much more liberal outlook on drugs policy as an MP than he did after he became Conservative leader.)

It's still my expectation that the Liberal Democrats will have a very good set of local elections. At that point, expect the full force of the Conservative machine and their allies in the press to turn its fire on Farron and his party. We've had an early stress test of the Liberal Democrats' strength under fire. It doesn't bode well for what's to come.

Getty Images.

The view from Google Earth is magnificent – but there's a problem

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Google Earth is spectacular but it can give a misleading impression of the planet and the threats we face from climate change. 

 

Google Earth wants you to “get lost” in its updated interactive map. Collaborations with new media partners mean you can now climb Mount Everest, swim with sharks or visit Afghanistan with Zari the purple Muppet. No, really:


Source: Google Earth

Yet as Trump slashes support for the science behind satellite imaging, is Google’s emphasis on spectacle leading us down the wrong path?

Google Earth's new look all starts well enough. Opening the new site on your browser takes you to an image of a blue Earth floating through the blackness of space. Back in the 1970s, similar images taken from the Apollo space missions helped kick-start the modern environmental movement. As the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle put it: “Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”


Source: GETTY and Google Earth

And it gets better. Enter a destination in the search bar and you are greeted with the option to link directly out to the Wikipedia page. Nerds of the world, rejoice! 

A guided tour from NASAearth is also on hand for anyone whose nerdery is in need of a prompt: “Geostationary satellites in geosynchronous orbits. Greenhouse gases and global warming. Glaciers . . . going, going, gone,” says the Bob Dylan-esque entry on its "ABCs from Space".

You can then choose to orbit your landmark of choice in 3D. And let’s face it  who doesn’t want to glide around the top of Mont Blanc, pretending to be an eagle? It’s almost as good as the BBC’s actual eagle-cam

But then it hits you. This is no soaring eagle, buffeted by wind currents and having constantly to adjust its flight path in the face of real-world obstacles. This is a world surveyed at a safe and sanitising distance. Tourism for the Trump age – focused on providing “a consumption experience”. Certainly it's the opposite of “getting lost”.

In fact, if anything has been lost or downplayed, it is the principles of scientific inquiry. The program is littered with human choices. Local versions of Google Maps, for instance, have shown different national borders depending on where in the world you log in. And while new, open-data imagery from America's Landsat 8 program is helping bring many regions up to date, other high-resolution imagery comes from commercial providers such as Digital Globe. And as this Google "help" page implies, there are issues of time-lag to face. 

You can’t even be sure what you’re looking at still exists. In 2015, Bolivia’s second-largest lake vanished  a combination of climate change, El Niño, and irrigation withdrawal caused 2,700 square kilometres of water to evaporate into a dry salt pan. (It has not recovered, and seems unlikely to do so.) Yet on the new version of Google Earth the lake is still a healthy green:


Source: GoogleEarth

The much-lauded film clips from the BBC’s Planet Earth II are similarly short on context. As I've argued before, David Attenborough's latest TV series did little to explain the stories behind the spectacle. There was no mention, for instance, of the Arctic anthrax outbreak that caused thousands of reindeer to be culled, nor of the role of climate change in worsening locust swarms. 

Finally, the new update actually shows you less of the world than it did before. Gone is the “Historical Imagery” tool that allowed you to see how a place had changed through time. Now, the Citadel of Aleppo in Syria is visible only as a bombed-out ruin. A surreal street-view reveals two women cheerily taking a selfie – with debris all around and their legs spliced out of shot:


Source: GoogleEarth

So why do these omissions matter? Because they take users further away from the evidence-based approach of Earth science. It turns out that satellite images on their own are of limited use when it comes to quantifying change. Instead, researchers must turn the raw pixels into numbers, which can then variously represent everything from forests and cities to glaciers and farms.

As Dr France Gerard at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology explains, this process enables us to live in a better-managed environment – be that by measuring air pollution or assessing the impact of fertiliser on soil. The centre's land cover map, for instance, has been mapping British land use since 1990. Similar methods allow Sam Lavender’s company to provide Ugandans with a Drought and Flood Mitigation service as part of the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme.

Sadly, the need for public engagement has never been more urgent. Brexit and austerity have cast doubt over important projects in the UK. At the same time, in Donald Trump’s America, funds for Earth monitoring are on the verge of being slashed. Two missions already under the knife are PACE, a spacecraft set to track global ocean health, and CLARREO, which would have produced highly accurate climate records. Trump has also called for the Earth-viewing instruments on the DSCOVR satellite to be turned off. Phil Larson, a former space adviser to President Obama, describes this decision as “baffling”.

What can be done to reverse this trend? Experts I spoke to believe that collaboration is key. With government programmes being squeezed, the Earth monitoring industry may come to rely increasingly on the trend towards smaller, commercial satellites. These are great for increasing the quantity of data available but their accuracy needs constantly to be checked against the data from the larger and more reliable state-launched equipment.

There’s also still more data out there to share. As Bronwyn Agrios from Astro Digital points out, many countries have been gathering region-specific data – which could, in future, be made open source. “The neat thing about space is that there’s no border,” she concludes.

To help this process, Google Earth could do far more to raise public awareness of the science behind its special effects. Yet at least in one way it is already on the right path: its own new range of collaborations is impressively large. As well as the BBC, you can take interactive tours with the Ocean Agency, the Wildscreen Arkive and the Jane Goodall Institute – all of which put conservation upfront. The Goodall journey to Gombe National Park in Tanzania even describes the use of satellite imagery to measure conservation success.

 

More links with other citizen science projects around the world could turn the partnership programme into something truly ground-breaking. If it can incorporate these, then desktop tourism may yet save the planet from Trump. 

GETTY

Read Any Good Books Lately? Adm. Jim Stavridis (ret.) Has Some Suggestions

By Christopher Nelson from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

When I arrived at European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2008, Gen. Bantz Craddock was wrapping up his time as the European Commander. Then, in 2009, Adm. Jim Stavridis took over. After his arrival, some immediate and interesting changes occurred. To begin, Stavridis sent a note to the staff listing over 30 books — from ...

The Rise and Fall of Erdoganocracy: Why Victory May Defeat Turkey’s President

By Burak Kadercan from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

There was a time when following Turkish politics was more like following a soap opera. It had too many recurring characters, too many subplots, and absolutely too much repetition. The plots unfolded in a relatively “slow” fashion and were not necessarily exciting or thrilling to outsiders. Consequently, Turkey had only a small and select audience ...

In His Own Words: Vladimir Putin’s Foreign Policy Analyzed

By Stephen Benedict Dyson and Matthew J. Parent from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

According to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, Donald Trump and his advisers differ on how to approach Vladimir Putin. While Trump tweets that “[e]verything will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,” and looks forward to “lasting peace,” his advisors air scathing assessments of Russian policies. Indeed, Putin has confounded and confused U.S. ...

The real meaning behind Jon McGregor’s village tale of a missing teenage girl

By Erica Wagner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 26, 2017.

Each chapter of Reservoir 13 begins at New Year, as the local crime story morphs into an observation of the passing of time.

Reservoir 13, by Jon McGregor
Fourth Estate, 325pp, £14.99

In 1977 – a year after Jon McGregor was born – Charles and Ray Eames, the renowned American designers, put their talents to film-making on behalf of IBM. Their film, Powers of Ten, is only nine minutes long but measures the scope of the universe. A couple are seen having a picnic in a park in Chicago from a distance of one metre. Every ten seconds the camera moves away from them by a power of ten: to ten metres, a hundred metres, a thousand, and on to 100 million light years – the Milky Way invisible in a vast sea of night. And then the camera swoops back down, closer and closer, through galaxies and the solar system, to finish right where it began, a close-up on that couple, laughing and eating by the shores of Lake Michigan, the intimate and the long view more closely connected than you would think.

Jon McGregor has always been interested in that kind of connection, too. His first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2002, a rare accolade for a debut (I was a judge that year). Set on a single summer’s day in a suburban street, the novel flows between its characters and their quotidian lives, no detail too small to escape the writer’s notice. It is a hymn to the ordinary, and with it the author marked out his territory. His third novel, Even the Dogs – which investigates the life of a chronic alcoholic in the aftermath of his death – won the IMPAC Literary Award in 2012.

In If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things McGregor keeps his camera close on his subject; in Reservoir 13, his first novel in seven years, he pulls out for a broader perspective. The novel is set in a nameless village in Derbyshire, and from its opening the reader could be forgiven for thinking that a crime story, of the Happy Valley variety, might follow. A group of villagers has gathered in the car park before dawn because a teenage girl – a visitor to the place, staying with her parents at a holiday cottage over New Year – has gone missing. Thirteen-year-old Rebecca Shaw was wearing a white hooded top, black jeans, canvas shoes; she was five feet tall with dark blonde, shoulder-length hair. A helicopter has been out all night searching for her, and now the local people have come out to do their bit.

McGregor shows us the village from the top of the moor: the villagers look back from the height and see “the beech wood and the allotments, the church tower and the cricket ground, the river and the quarry and the cement works by the main road into town”. This will be the stage on which he sets his story: but swiftly the novel moves away from being the kind of tale in which a clever copper catches the local wrong ’un. The consolations of this novelist’s work are never as simple as that.

Each of the 13 chapters of the book begins at New Year; and each chapter, bar the first and last, begins the same way, with the words “At midnight when the year turned”. This is a book of the turning seasons, each chapter stretching across 12 months, January through July and into winter, the rhythms of the land rubbing up against the 21st century, against the hollow, frightening space left by the missing Rebecca. As each year passes, the memory of the girl fades, though her name continues to echo throughout the text and the fact of her disappearance continues to burden the lives of the villagers who once searched for her.

Their stories – the shuttering of a butcher’s shop, the local artist’s increasing retreat from the world, the fissures in marriages – are interwoven with McGregor’s close and tender observation of the natural world: the way the skies clear in autumn, the way mud hardens in the lanes. The author abandons paragraph breaks to blend lives and landscape: “In November it rained for so long that the cricket field turned into a bog and the bonfire display was called off. The fieldfares retreated from the fields beside the church and fed beneath the hawthorn hedges. At midday Jones left the school and fetched two pies from the shop.”

Perhaps, as a result, McGregor’s villagers recede somewhat into their setting: there is no dialogue, just the narrative passing evenly over every life, human and animal, bird and insect, every joy, every sorrow. But then that surely is the point: the world turns, time passes, every single life, every single sorrow and joy sparks and then falls, like the villagers’ New Year fireworks, into the long dark of the universe. 

Erica Wagner appears at the Cambridge Literary Festival to talk about “First Light: a Celebration of Alan Garner” (Unbound) with Ali Smith on 23 April

The Peak District. Photo: Getty

The Brilliant Incoherence of Trump’s Foreign Policy

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Trump dominated the election-year debate by proposing a more hopped-up version of foreign-policy activism than the usual advocates of activism, and a fuller kind of disengagement than those who wanted to scale down. The combination—radicalism at both ends of the spectrum—seemed the essence of his appeal. For Trump, American policy was supposed to serve only American interests. Best of all, Trump suggested, his entire approach would be free. Yes, we could be “great again”—and on the cheap. Such a blend of much more and much less could easily have seemed incoherent, or crazy. But the two halves of Trump’s formula worked together better than critics appreciated.

France's Presidential Election

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

CFR's James M. Lindsay, Robert McMahon, and Philip Gordon examine the outcome of the first round of France's presidential election.

The World’s Hotspots

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Experts discuss the most important flashpoints in international affairs for the current administration.

Keynote: 2017 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Following a welcome message by James Lindsay, Calvin Sims, in conversation with Mira Patel, launch the 2017 Conference on Diversity in International Affairs with a keynote address about leadership, mentorship, and diversity in international affairs.

Daily chart: Our British election tracker

By from European Union. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Main image:  Audio and Video content on Economist.com requires a browser that can handle iFrames. THERESA MAY, Britain’s prime minister, caught even keen political observers by surprise on April 18th when she announced she would call a snap election. The country’s previous general election was held less than two years ago, and its vote to leave the European Union is just ten months old. However, Mrs May has never led her party in an electoral campaign; she became prime minister after her predecessor, David Cameron, stepped down. She justified her decision by saying she needed to secure a mandate from the public for negotiating the country’s exit from the EU, which could strengthen Britain’s bargaining position.Current polling suggests Mrs May is overwhelmingly likely to obtain the support she seeks. The Conservatives enjoy a 20-percentage-point lead over Labour, whose choice of a hard-left leader in Jeremy Corbyn has limited its appeal. Support for the Tories is strong among virtually all demographic groups save the youngest voters, aged 18-24. And those youngsters, who are staunch Labour partisans, tend to vote less than other groups: just 40% of them turned out in 2015, compared with nearly 80% of people over 65. The campaign is likely to revolve around the terms of Brexit, an issue where ...

What will the 2017 local elections tell us about the general election?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

In her timing of the election, Theresa May is taking a leaf out of Margaret Thatcher's book. 

Local elections are, on the whole, a much better guide to the next general election than anything the polls might do.

In 2012, Kevin Cunningham, then working in Labour’s targeting and analysis team, surprised his colleagues by announcing that they had lost the 2015 election. Despite gaining 823 councillors and taking control of 32 more local authorities, Cunningham explained to colleagues, they hadn’t made anything like the gains necessary for that point in the parliament. Labour duly went on to lose, in defiance of the polls, in 2015.

Matt Singh, the founder of NumberCruncherPolitics, famously called the polling failure wrong, in part because Labour under Ed Miliband had underperformed their supposed poll share in local elections and parliamentary by-elections throughout the parliament.

The pattern in parliamentary by-elections and local elections under Jeremy Corbyn before the European referendum all pointed the same way – a result that was not catastrophically but slightly worse than that secured by Ed Miliband in 2015. Since the referendum, thanks to the popularity of Theresa May, the Conservative poll lead has soared but more importantly, their performance in contests around the country has improved, too.

As regular readers will know, I was under the impression that Labour’s position in the polls had deteriorated during the coup against Corbyn, but much to my surprise, Labour’s vote share remained essentially stagnant during that period. The picture instead has been one of steady deterioration, which has accelerated since the calling of the snap election. So far, voters buy Theresa May’s message that a large majority will help her get a good Brexit deal. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)

If the polls are correct, assuming a 2020 election, what we would expect at the local elections would be for Labour to lose around 100 councillors, largely to the benefit of the Liberal Democrats, and the Conservatives to pick up around 100 seats too, largely to the detriment of Ukip.

But having the local elections just five weeks before the general elections changes things. Basically, what tends to happen in local elections is that the governing party takes a kicking in off-years, when voters treat the contests as a chance to stick two fingers up to the boost. But they do better when local elections are held on the same day as the general election, as voters tend to vote for their preferred governing party and then vote the same way in the elections on the same day.

The Conservatives’ 2015 performance is a handy example of this. David Cameron’s Tories gained 541 councillors that night. In 2014, they lost 236, in 2013 they lost 335, and in 2012 they lost 405. In 2011, an usually good year for the governing party, they actually gained 86, an early warning sign that Miliband was not on course to win, but one obscured because of the massive losses the Liberal Democrats sustained in 2011.

The pattern holds true for Labour governments, too. In 2010, Labour gained 417 councillors, having lost 291 and 331 in Gordon Brown’s first two council elections at the helm. In 2005, with an electoral map which, like this year’s was largely unfavourable to Labour, Tony Blair’s party only lost 114 councillors, in contrast to the losses of 464 councillors (2004), 831 councillors (2003) and 334 councillors (2002).  This holds true all the way back to 1979, the earliest meaningful comparison point thanks to changes to local authorities’ sizes and electorates, where Labour (the governing party) gained council seats after years of losing them.

So here’s the question: what happens when local elections are held in the same year but not the same day as local elections? Do people treat them as an opportunity to kick the government? Or do they vote “down-ticket” as they do when they’re held on the same day?

Before looking at the figures, I expected that they would be inclined to give them a miss. But actually, only the whole, these tend to be higher turnout affairs. In 1983 and 1987, although a general election had not been yet called, speculation that Margaret Thatcher would do so soon was high. In 1987, Labour prepared advertisements and a slogan for a May election. In both contests, voters behaved much more like a general election, not a local election.

The pattern – much to my surprise – holds for 1992, too, when the Conservatives went to the country in April 1992, a month before local elections. The Conservatives gained 303 seats in May 1992.

What does this mean for the coming elections? Well, basically, a good rule of thumb for predicting general elections is to look at local election results, and assume that the government will do a bit better and the opposition parties will do significantly worse.

(To give you an idea: two years into the last parliament, Labour’s projected national vote share after the local elections was 38 per cent. They got 31 per cent. In 1985, Labour’s projected national vote share based on the local elections was 39 per cent, they got 30 per cent. In 2007, the Conservatives projected share of the vote was 40 per cent – they got 36 per cent, a smaller fall, but probably because by 2010 Gordon Brown was more unpopular even than Tony Blair had been by 2007.)

In this instance, however, the evidence suggests that the Tories will do only slightly better and Labour and the Liberal Democrats only slightly worse in June than their local election performances in May. Adjust your sense of  what “a good night” for the various parties is accordingly. 

Photo: Getty

America Is Getting Used to Trump’s Insanity

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

The president has managed to accomplish at least one big thing in his first 100 days: the once unthinkable is now unremarkable.

China’s money is a mixed blessing for Pakistan

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

The US cannot cede all influence over its unreliable ally to Beijing

A costly and incoherent stance on UK migration

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Theresa May’s hardline approach is incompatible with an open economy

A brief history of people more narcissistic than the “selfie generation”

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Thanks.

There’s a new app going viral. FaceApp is a free “neural face transformation” service which allows you to drastically alter your selfies. There’s a filter that makes you look old, one that makes you look like a child, and another that will swap your gender. In terms of both technological capabilities and the amount-of-fun-you-can-have-by-pressing-a-button, the app is a clear winner. It is the most fun you’ll have all day.

Boris Johnson under FaceApp's "smile", "old", and "female" filters

Enter the Guardian. In actual fact, the paper informs us, the app is a sign of our “narcissistic times”.  You know the ones. These times. The times we’re living in. Oh the times! Where people use dog-faced Snapchat filters and have the audacity to take pictures of their face while on the bus! Disgusting. Horrible. But most of all, totally, totally unprecedented. Something unseen until digital natives got hold of smartphones. 

Here is a brief historical overview of people and peoples who were, in hindsight, nowhere near as self-involved and vain as those dirty, dirty millennials.

  • Ramses II, who built more statues of himself than any other pharaoh and then inscribed his name on other people’s statues just to rub it in
  • The 40,000 Victorian women who died because they carried on wearing hoop skirts even though they knew they were extremely flammable
  • Emperor Nero, who was declared the winner of AD 67 Olympic 10-horse chariot race after he fell off his horse and refused to finish the race
  • Piers Morgan

Via Getty

  • President Lyndon Johnson who, when asked why American soldiers were in Vietnam, whipped out his actual penis and said “This is why!”
  • Turkmenistan’s president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who built a $12m, 246ft tall monument topped by a 39ft gold-plated statue of himself placed on a rotational device so it would always face the sun
  • And then also renamed the months after himself and his family
  • Ancient Roman women, who knew that lead was poisonous but carried on using it to whiten their faces anyway
  • And then used crocodile dung as make-up on top

Via Getty

  • Rembrandt, who created over 100 self-portraits and then made his students copy them out in order to learn about art
  • And then also painted himself into his artwork of the crucifixion
  • Pope Innocent VIII, who allegedly drank the blood of three young boys in hope of capturing their youth
  • Like, even if that was just a rumour you know he had to be pretty screwed up for that rumour to fly
  • I mean, Instagram didn’t even exist

Via Getty

  • Henry Cyril Paget, the fifth Marquis of Anglesey who purchased a theatre and multiple acting troupes so that he could always play the lead role
  • And also modified his car so the exhaust sprayed perfume
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ordered three 8ft-tall bronze statues of himself
  • The First Earl of Leicester Robert Dudley, who commissioned 20 portraits of himself and the hung them next to pictures of Queen Elizabeth I because he wanted to bang her
  • Donald Trump, who signed a proclamation to make his inauguration the “National Day of Patriotic Devotion”

Via Getty

  • Louis XIII, who passed multiple laws prohibiting anyone but himself and other nobility from wearing gold embroidery
  • Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, who ordered that a road be built as she walked so that her journey was smoother
  • Oh, and 10,000 people died building it
  • The Roman Emperor Caligula, who declared himself a god and killed anyone that mentioned goats in his presence
  • Josef Stalin, who shot his own parrot for mimicking him
  • And also, tbh, killed a lot of other people too

Via Getty

  • A man called John Crutezi, who died because in 1888 he starched his collar to be too stiff and he choked
  • Henry VIII, who created an entirely new religion just so he could divorce his wife
  • Louis XIV, who called himself the “Sun King” – implying everything revolved around him –and for good measure added “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the State”)
  • Pretty much everyone involved with the British empire

So it’s final. Those of us who want to use FaceApp to find out what we’ll look like when we’re sixty are officially the vainest people in history. 

 

Getty/Snapchat/New Statesman

What to look out for in the 2017 local elections on 4 May

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Your guide to the important results, through the night and into Friday evening. 

Voters in England, Scotland and Wales will elect councillors and county councillors on 4 May, in the first major indicator of party strength since the referendum contest. The snap election on 8 June gives the contest an added edge. Here's what to look out for as the night unfolds. 

22:00:  Polls close, and the New Statesman liveblog opens. Parties will start their spin operations, which will give us an idea how well or badly they think they’ve done.

Remember the historic trajectory is for the opposition parties to do better at local elections than general elections, as voters use them to send a message to the boss. That even holds true for the elections in 1983 and 1987, which occurred in May before a June election, where the Conservatives made gains, unusually for a governing party when locals are not held on the same day as general election. So both the Liberal Democrats and Labour will want to post big results in anticipation of doing worse on 8 June than they will on 4 May.

We will also be electing the new combined authority mayors. These use the instant run-off system, which means that if no candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off. This is one reason why the Conservatives will struggle to win any of these elections other than Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

There will, I imagine, be some on-the-whistle polls, though these should not be considered “exit polls” in the sense of the big one on general election nights.

Well, British exit polls aren’t measuring voting intention – they don’t give us much of a sense of what the percentage of the vote will be, for instance – but change. Although there are many more Labour voters in Hackney than there are in Harrogate, for instance, for the most part, if there is a five per cent increase in the Labour vote at the expense of the Conservatives in Hackney, there will be a five per cent increase in the Labour vote at the expense of the Conservatives in Harrogate – and, more importantly, in Harlow, a marginal seat.

This is very expensive however, so broadcasters will not be shelling out for an exit poll for the local elections. Instead, we’ll just get ordinary polls.

Hopefully they’ll be interesting, because we won’t have much to talk about until…

02:00: Results come in from the Isle of Wight, which, thanks to its large number of independents, won’t tell us all that much unless the Liberal Democrats are on course for a fantastic night. More interesting is Swansea, the first Welsh council due to declare.  Labour hold 49 of the seats here, but the Liberal Democrats went from 23 seats here to just 12 last time, so they will hope to make gains.

These results won’t disprove anything – Labour could hold on in Swansea and the Isle of Wight could continue to be a bit odd and the Liberal Democrat revival could be on, but it’s also possible that we will see that they are really starting to get back to their pre-coalition position.

Also keep a look out for how the Conservatives do in the wards that make up Gower, a Labour seat from 1906 until the 2015 election, where Byron Davies is defending a wafer-thin majority on 8 June.

02:30: Wrexham will declare. Wrexham has been in no overall control since ten Labour councillors, including the council leader, resigned the whip in protest at interference from regional officers. As a result, we won’t get as good an idea as we’d like what this result means for Ian Lucas’s chances of holding onto to Wrexham, which narrowly stayed Labour in 2015.

03:00:  It’s raining Welsh councils. Cardiff (Labour controlled, Liberal Democrats looking to recover lost ground in a council they ran until 2012) , Flintshire (Labour in coalition with independents facing Liberal Democrats), Merthyr Tydfil (Labour controlled having been run by a Liberal coalition with Indepedents from 2008 to 2012), and the improbably-named Neath Port Talbot  (Labour hegemony).

In terms of general election battles, look at how the Conservatives do in the wards making up Cardiff North, which they are defending, and Cardiffs West and South, which they hope to take. Look out for how the Labour-Liberal Democrat battle works out in Cardiff Central, too. In Flintshire, keep an eye out for the results in Delyn and Alyn and Deeside, where Labour’s Mark Tami and David Hanson face tough re-election bids against the Tories.

The great unknown is how well Ukip will do. Ukip have performed strongly in Wales but the last time these seats were up, in 2012, the party hadn’t enjoyed its 2013-4 surge and now it is in institutional crisis. They are standing fewer candidates though some former Kippers may do well as independents.

Then the English mainland finally gets on the act, as county councils in Dorset (narrow Conservative majority) , Essex, Gloucestershire (narrow Conservative majority) and Lincolnshire (Conservatives in coalition with Liberal Democrats and independents), Somerset (Conservative majority), Warwickshire (no overall control) declare.

In Dorset, watch out how the Liberal Democrats do, particularly in the wards of Mid Dorset and Poole,  which they held until 2015 and then lost on a massive swing. We’d expect a reversion to the mean for the Liberal Democrats on 8 June as they come off the back of their very bad losses in the 2015 general election. So look out for signs of that here. For Labour, their best hope comes within South Dorset, a seat they held until 2010, though unfavorable boundary changes since then make it a safe seat for Richard Drax.  

In Gloucestershire, the Liberal Democrats will be looking for a big performance in the wards of Cheltenham, another 2015 loss, while Labour will hope to build on their 2012 gains in the city of Gloucester itself. Seats in the Cotswolds constituency will give us a good clue as to whether or not the Liberal Democrats’ push into affluent Conservative areas that voted Remain is bearing fruit.

Meanwhile, Labour have two marginals to defend, while the Tories have three at a parliamentary level in Lincolnshire. The Tories will hope to defend LincolnBrigg and Goole and Cleethorpes in June, while Labour’s Melanie Onn and Nic Dakin are protecting narrow majorities in Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe respectively.

In Somerset, look out for the scale of the Liberal Democrat revival, particularly in Taunton Deane and Wells where Rebecca Pow and James Heappey are hoping to head off Liberal revivals. Remain-voting Bath in particular is worth keeping an eye on.

Warwickshire is all-blue at a Westminster level, though it contains the marginal seats of Nuneaton, North Warwickshire, and Rugby, which despite its 10,000 vote majority is the emblematic seat Labour would need to win to secure a parliamentary majority. As with all three of those seats, the council race should be a straightforward Tory-Labour battle.

04:00: Look for how Ukip or Ukippers-turned-independent can do in Blaenau Gwent, while the Conservatives hope to take Bridgend – held by Madeleine Moon at Westminster and crucially, Welsh Labour leader Carwyn Jones at the Assembly level – in June. A good Labour performance here would indicate that the Tories will face a harder time in Wales than the polls suggest.

In Newport, Labour regained their majority – lost in 2008 – in 2012, and the Liberal Democrats and Tories will both hope to eat into it. If the polls are to be believed, both Newport seats are at risk from the Conservatives, so look out for how they do here.

English county councils in Hampshire (Conservative) and Northumberland (no overall control) will declare. In Hampshire, the Liberal Democrats are looking for gains, particularly in Portsmouth South and Eastleigh, both lost in 2015.

04:30: Ceredigion, one of just eight Liberal Democrat defences, is up, but unfortunately, the local council is run by independents and Plaid Cymru so it's unlikely to tell us much unless the Welsh nationalists have an astonishingly good result, in which case, we won’t know much about what these means for Mark Williams’ re-election hopes.

05:00: CityMetric editor Jonn Elledge is scheduled to make his “O” face as the first ever combined authority mayoral result for the West of England comes in. (More accurately, it’s the Bristol-Bath-South Gloucestershire-and-North-East-Somerset mayoralty but that doesn’t roll off the tongue. Irritate a Bath resident and call it the “Greater Bristol” mayor. 

I am v. sceptical that this will come in at the advertised time as Bristol famously counts its results very, very slowly. But this is the only genuine three-way marginal of the mayoralties, though thanks to the form of run-off voting used, I expect there will be a lot of wasted transfers. (If you are a Green voter, it’s not at all clear whether you should put Labour or the Liberal Democrats as your second preference to stop the Tories, for instance.)  

That the Liberal Democrats are standing their still-popular former Bristol MP Stephen Williams as their candidate increases their chances here.

Monmouthshire (Conservative-Liberal coalition), will declare. Labour will hope to become the largest party and take control. Monmouth constituency has a formidable Tory majority of 10,000 despite being Labour until 2005, but is, again, in the ballpark of seats Labour must compete in if it wishes to govern alone. 

05:30: Doncaster mayoralty. Ukip used to talk a big game about taking this kind of thing. Not so much now.

07:00: Vale of Glamorgan will declare. Conservative at Westminster, but run by a minority Labour administration since 2012, Labour must take control and take control comfortably if they are to take the seat back on 8 June.

08:00:  Cumbria, where Labour runs a minority administration, to declare. Look out for how the party performs in the wards of Copeland and Barrow, both of which the party hopes to hold onto from 2015. The Welsh council of Torfaen, a Labour stronghold at both Westminster and local level, will also declare.

08:00-11:00: Sleep.

11:00: The first Scottish result comes in. Unfortunately, it’s from the Orkney Islands, where only independents stand at a local level, so we will learn….not a lot.

Scotlad elects councillors under the single transferable vote system so most of the councils are coalitions. In terms of stress-testing the polls, there are two things to look out for: the first is a general Conservative vote increase. The second is the emergence of what you might call the Unionist front: that is, people voting on constitutional lines across left-right lines. If that happens, the SNP may underperform their voteshare significantly as far as council seats go.

The nightmare for Labour: a massive increase in the Tory vote but no emergence of Unionist tactical voting. That would suggest that not only are the polls showing the Tories up to 30 per cent in Scotland are true, but that there is no electoral dividend for Labour there at all. (This would also be in contrast to the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, where Labour lost votes but their vote became more effective thanks to tactical Unionist votes.)

The other thing to watch out for: if people, particularly Green-aligned voters, use these elections to punish the SNP government, which is sort of what we’d expect in regular times, or if they too vote tactically for pro-Yes candidates.

12:00: Stirling, the first Scottish local authority which may tell us anything at all about how the general election is going to play out, reports. The SNP are the largest party but they are in opposition, as a combined Labour-Conservative coalition run the show.

12:30: Clackmannanshire, currently run by the SNP but no overall control. Formerly held by Labour at Westminster and now represented by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. Meanwhile, in Wales, Denbighshire will declare. The polls suggest that Labour’s Susan Jones will be out of a job come 9 June. If Labour are going to hold the seat at the general, they will want to take control of the council in May. (It is presently a hung council with Labour the largest party.)

13:00: The Shetland Islands, which like Orkney elect independents, will declare. More interesting for the general will be Angus, where the SNP are the largest party by a distance. If the Tories are going to make gains of the kind forecast in the polls in Scotland, they need to at least be becoming the official opposition in places like Angus.

In England, Devon and Hertfordshire will declare. Devon is a straight Tory-Liberal battle. Hertfordshire is more complex. The Liberal Democrats will want a good result in the wards of Three Rivers while Watford is a three-way marginal. If Labour are to defy the polls and form a government, they should expect to gain seats in the wards making up Stevenage.

 14:00:  In England, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex all declare. Cambridgeshire is the one to watch – if the #LibDemfightback is a thing, we’ll feel it there, in the wards of the city itself in particular.

In Wales, Caerphilly, Conwy, Gwynedd, and Pembrokeshire all declare. Gwynedd, Pembrokeshire and Conwy have large numbers of independents so may not tell us very much about how the general election will pan out.  Caerphily is a straight party battle: it’s a Labour vs Plaid Cymru but it won’t tell us much about how things will play out in the parliamentary seats, where Labour are miles ahead and their opponent is Ukip.

And in Scotland, Dumfries & Galloway, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Inverclyde, Moray, Midlothian, Scottish Borders and South Ayrshire all declare. The big one to watch is the Borders – the Conservatives are the largest party but are in opposition to an SNP-Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition. Getting good results in places like this will give us an idea how much the Conservative revival in Scotland will pay dividends in terms of gaining seats.

14:30: Aberdeenshire, East Lothian, and Renfrewshire all declare. Aberdeenshire is the fun one: the SNP are the largest party by a distance at the council and they of course hold the seats at Westminster. But it voted to stay in the United Kingdom by a heavy margin and the Scottish Conservatives won the Holyrood seat last year. If the Tories can become the largest party here, they are headed for a great result in Scotland in June.

15:00: Liverpool City Region will declare. Given my dubiousness about Bristol’s counting proccesses, I reckon Steve Rotheram is in with a chance of being the first person elected to these new combined authorities.

In England, Cornwall, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey and West Sussex declare. Cornwall is run by a Liberal Democrat-Independent coalition, and if there is to be a Liberal revival in that part of the world, it will surely be felt in the council elections. 

In Scotland, Aberdeen, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, North Ayrshire and West Lothian declare. East Dunbartonshire may give us a hint about Jo Swinson’s chances of taking back the parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats.

 16:00: A little bit of history will likely be made when Labour lose control of Glasgow Council.

The combined authority of Tees Valley should be a routine Labour win. Worry about June if it’s not. Norma Redfern is running for re-election as Labour’s mayor inn North Tyneside, which she ought to win easily.

In England, Labour should consolidate their position in Derbyshire, and win a majority in Lancashire, where they are currently no overall control. If they don’t – and if they slip back in both or either – that will be further evidence that Labour’s dire polling is correct.

17:00: In England, Labour will hope to make gains in Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire. Elsewhere, it’s a Conservative-Liberal fight.

It is very, very, very unlikely that anyone but the Tories will win the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough combined mayoralty. If the Liberal Democrats do it, expect a lot of Conservative MPs to start worrying.   

In Scotland, Edinburgh will declare. Who comes out on top there will be a fascinating pointer as to where Scottish politics is going: the city returned candidates from the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats last year. At a council ward-level, it really is anyone’s game.

17:30: The Tories won seats at a clip in the Scottish Parliament last year, including Eastwood. See how they do in East Renfrewshire to see if they have a chance of doing the same to its Westminster equivalent.

18:00: Who will win the Greater Manchester mayoralty? Hint: rhymes with Andy Burnham.  More interesting is the West Midlands mayoralty, where Labour’s Sion Simon faces a strong challenge from the Conservatives’ Andy Street. 

Photo: Getty

Eleven things that will definitely happen during the general election campaign

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

History is repeating itself as the 2015 general election campaign is echoed in the 2017 snap vote.

The last election is happening all over again.

Here’s how:

1. Michael Fallon is wheeled out to link the opposition leader to nuclear war

2015

The smearer-in-chief Michael Fallon, or the Minister for the Today Programme, as he has sometimes been labelled, was unleashed by CCHQ to warn that as Ed Miliband “stabbed his own brother in the back” to lead Labour, he was “willing to stab the UK in the back” and threaten national security by doing a deal with the Scottish National Party to cancel Trident. It was nasty and untrue, and sadly political rhetoric has only worsened since.

2017

The Tory Terminator is back! This time, aiming his nuclear wordheads at Jeremy Corbyn. But with essentially the same script as last time. Yes, the Labour leader was branded a “security risk” on Trident by the same Defence Secretary who was accused of keeping parliament in the dark over a failed nuclear weapons test (which suggests no threat to national security at all, of course).

Fallon says Theresa May would fire Trident as a “first strike”. So once again in British politics, to prove you can be trusted with national security you have to be more committed than your opponent to starting a nuclear war.

2. The Conservatives will conjure up the prospect of coalition to scare voters

2015

In what appeared to be a rather risky strategy of constantly putting your opponents on your campaign literature, elegantly playing the recorder, the Tories banged on for weeks about Ed Miliband potentially doing a deal with the SNP in government. And somehow, despite actually being in coalition themselves, the Tories managed to make coalition sound scary enough for this strategy to work.

2017

Guys, did you know that there's the chance of a “coalition of chaos” after the election? A “coalition of chaos”, yeah. What’s that, you say? We don’t know either, but it sounds good, doesn’t it? “Coalition”. “Chaos”. Alliteration. No, we know there’s no chance of it happening either and that Labour is refusing to work with other parties anyway but stiiiiill “coalition of chaos” is definitely a thing. “Coalition of chaos”.

The good thing about this is that the coalition bogeyman may have less traction this time round because so few people see there being much likelihood of a Corbyn premiership.

3. Someone will photoshop the opposition leader incongruously wearing a flower crown and people will ask if it could affect the election result

2015

#Milifandom was the symbol of a more innocent time in our politics. “Whilst the Sun attacks the 17-year-old behind the Milifandom craze, young people have found an arena of their own in which to have political discussion without obvious tabloid bias,” one fan told the Independent on the eve of the election. “This will obviously have a bearing on the election.”

It didn’t.

2017

But don’t let your flowers wilt just yet, o admiring youth of the ironic web! For Corbyn became a cult figure loved and memed by many, young and old, the moment he began campaigning to be Labour leader.


Not since flower-crowned Ed had Britain seen a politician so revered. Will this have a bearing on the election? Perhaps, but not in the way some fans may wish . . .

4. Russell Brand will say something and people will ask if it could affect the election result

2015

That thirsty thesaurus Russell Brand interviewed a number of politicians ahead of the general election campaign for his stressful YouTube channel The Trews and none was more anticipated than when Ed went round to his house a few days before the election. A performance filled with glottal stops and nonchalant shrugs, dropped tees and aitches left an audience clenched in cringe – and a Labour Party without the endorsement it wanted. Brand went for the Greens in the end.

2017

He hasn’t had a cosy chat with Corbyn yet but Brand has just returned to live radio with a new show, and it looks like he won’t stay quiet for long as he’s already gatecrashed Katie Hopkins’s LBC show on live radio to lure “Hatie Hopkins” back to humanity.

5. A politician will be caught having the audacity to consume food

2015

Ed Miliband ate a bacon sandwich, and it made front-page news. Read my colleague Amelia on why politicians eating in public is such a global preoccupation.

2017

Jeremy Corbyn has had many a food-based controversy. Giant-marrow-wielding aside, he has angered Mumsnet with his dislike of biscuits, and called kebab shops “a place of great discourse and discussion” yet implored their owners to serve salad too, to provide “the balanced diet that everybody needs”, and further riling them by supporting the sugar tax.

6. People will trust or dismiss polls depending on whether they confirm their political bias

2015

Polling: The polls are neck and neck = the Tories will win it/Labour will win it.

Result: The Tories won an outright majority.

2017

Polling: The Tories have a historic poll lead = the Tories will win it/Labour will win it.

Result: We know now never to make predictions because . . .

7. Every single one will be wrong

2015

For a while after the result, everything looked like this…

2017

. . . so, guys, why should we believe the polls this time round saying Labour will be destroyed?

8. Apart from the ones that show Labour doing badly

2015

2017

Oh.

9. Which will be extremely accurate

Great.

10. Well-timed colds will cover up difficult policy positions

2015

Luckily, the then Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, had a cold, which meant she was able to casually cough and sneeze her way through LBC’s questioning on her housing policy. So smooth. No one noticed. Cough.

2017

Not strictly part of the election campaign, but the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, was thought to have a bout of “Brexit flu”, hence she missed the first Commons vote to trigger Article 50.

11. Nigel Farage will lose his seat

2015

In a beautifully degrading snapshot beside Al Murray’s Pub Landlord Little Englander caricature, the then Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, lost in South Thanet – failing to be elected to parliament for the seventh time.

2017

Will there be an eighth time? With his successor Paul Nuttall apparently preferring to lock himself in a room away from journalists asking whether he’ll be running for a seat, it looks like Farage is still the party’s main hope.

Twitter/Instagram/Getty

Suzanne Moore: why Stuart Hall felt he was the "last colonial"

By Suzanne Moore from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Stuart Hall analysed power, whether in conservative ideology or structural racism.

Familiar Stranger: a Life Between Two Islands, by Stuart Hall with Bill Schwarz
Allen Lane, 302pp, £25

“Sometimes I feel I was the last colonial.” This is the first line of Stuart Hall’s memoir. Or not-quite-memoir. In one passage Hall, then ill and in his eighties, discusses his ambivalence about taking on the project. He never wanted to write a memoir. His memories are present to him as “a generalised absence” and loss runs deep throughout this book, which has been put together through a serious of conversations with the academic Bill Schwarz. As the introduction tells us, the publisher later decided to recast the conversations as a first-person narrative that Hall, who died in 2014, never saw.

Hall is a key thinker. His analysis remains profound. In these days of Brexit we need his nuanced view of identity more than ever. When his voice comes through in this book it is rich with longing and the constant stretching of asking how we think about who we are and where we come from. Hall in full flow was quite something. He remains one of the best speakers I have heard.

The insights are often found in what he calls the in-between spaces, in the gap between the colonial and post-colonial worlds. His craving for ackee and plantain, his horror of white food (literally so: white fish with boiled potatoes and cauliflower) when he first gets to Oxford, resonate alongside passages about his childhood. His intellectual formation is outlined here but scholars of Hall and cultural studies will want much more. The book stops when he is 30.

Nevertheless, his locating of himself in place and in history is crucial to understanding the way he thinks of identity, as a constantly shifting position. Calling on anthropology and psychoanalysis helps him move to what we would now call “intersectionality”, which he describes as always awkward and always unsettled.

Hall’s interventions as a thinker – his writing on Thatcherism (he coined the term), or his work on law and order in 1978’s Policing the Crisis – depend on an extraordinary understanding of how multiple identifications are played out through existing power structures. This is much more sophisticated, and more real, than the simplistic “false consciousness” that Marxism allows.

Familiar Stranger charts his childhood and youth in British-ruled Jamaica in the 1930s to 1940s with a benign but absent father and a socially climbing mother who, he comments sardonically, disastrously turns her family into a project, because working outside the home would be low class. There is a sadness around his sister, who has a breakdown from which she never recovers. He pinpoints the gradations of melanin. He is part of a brown elite, not the black masses, but still he is too dark; he feels himself often to be in “internal exile” in his mixed family. Even as independence approaches he would not describe himself as black. Black consciousness comes much later.

His school valorises the British imagination. It is almost as if the empire has been acquired accidentally. Jamaica is a diaspora in itself, with a history of violence, bloodshed, trauma. So Hall begins to assemble another life. In 1951 he leaves, with a scholarship to read English at Oxford University. There he finds an Englishness that is both dreary and exalted. The shock of seeing the poor black people who arrived on the Empire Windrush stays with him. A huge part of his consciousness, though, comes through modernism: poetry, art and particularly jazz, whose tension between structure and freedom without sentimentality speaks to him. As he said, Miles put a finger on his soul. In this music, he finds what Frantz Fanon calls “the fact of blackness”.

In England he understands what C L R James said about Caribbean migrants being “in, but not of, Europe”. At Oxford, V S Naipaul is hostile to “Negroes”. Hall feels tense much of the time but starts to pour his energy into the New Left and cultural theory. He gives us fascinating glimpses of his contemporaries. Raphael Samuel is chaotic but charismatic. E P Thompson is really quite snotty – he disapproves of cultural studies and doesn’t see why Hall has to bang on so much about race. Raymond Williams is gentle. Brian Walden at one point tells him he has no place in the Labour Party.

Familiar Stranger functions best as a memoir of diasporic thinking. Hall is not of England. He cannot return to Jamaica. A deep sense of melancholy pervades the book. Yet life was brimming with possibility. He skewered dogmatic Marxism and was alert and joyful about visual art. The purpose of “decoding” culture was also to produce it and he inspired and worked with many black artists. The Stuart Hall Project, a gorgeous film about him by John Akom­frah, is evidence of that.

Hall’s thinking is never about just race or class or gender, but all of these things all the time. This is why he analysed power, whether in conservative ideology or structural racism. Ideology matters. Language matters. How do people identify with what may work against them? What do they aspire to? Who controls the discourse? Who counters it? How do we transform politics through our lived culture?

The dynamic of history interests him more than personal reflection. His life was a conversation, not a monologue. “Theory,” Hall once said, “is a detour to somewhere more important.” The route of his detour still guides us, even though “home” for him was never simply in one place. And never could be. That is what colonialism means. 

Exploding snowman forecasts hot summer for Switzerland

From BBC News - World. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Switzerland is set for good weather this summer according to a popular spring tradition.

School funding: the £3bn problem creeping up on Theresa May

By Freddie Whittaker from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Parents are starting to notice the consequence of schools funding changes. And they're not happy. 

As speculation grew last Tuesday morning that Theresa May would imminently call a snap general election, Kevin Courtney, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was furiously re-writing the speech he was due to deliver at the union’s conference at noon.

The resulting changes included a pledge to put school funding “at the centre” of the union’s campaigning in the run-up to 8 June. Alongside a call to arms for teachers, he also wrote a message for parents.

“I am talking to the activists in this hall, but I have a wider audience in mind,” Courtney told teachers in Cardiff.

He was, he said, also addressing the “hundreds of thousands of teachers who aren’t here and the millions of parents and children currently engaged in our schools and colleges” and who were ready to mobilise against funding cuts. 

Tapping up angry parents as a campaign resource is nothing new. But the growing disquiet among the wider public as the school funding crisis reaches breaking point means the parents’ voices are now a particularly powerful tool. One the government could do without in the run-up to polling day.

The figures are stark – the Institute for Fiscal Studies says real-terms spending is set to fall by 6.5 per cent by 2020 – that’s the steepest cut in school funds since the 1990s.

Schools must find savings of £3bn by 2019-20, according to the National Audit Office. That’s the average salary of around 100,000 teachers.

The schoolcuts.org.uk website - put together by the unions using government data – shows that 99 per cent of schools will have per-pupil funding cut, and there are concerns the final version of the government’s upcoming new formula for handing out cash to schools will hit those in cities even harder than first thought.

But it is the plight of individual schools that is really getting through to parents. School leaders are increasingly having to ask them for donations, while the curriculum on offer to their children narrows, with creative subjects often the first to go because they do not count towards the government’s accountability measures.

Support services are being cut too. - Stuart McLaughlin, from Bower Park Academy, told the education select committee that he faced having to axe support staff roles, including those of the school’s counsellor and first aid officer. These are things that parents notice.

The impact of the government’s decision not to protect school funding in the face of rising costs from salary increases, pension and national insurance rises and other pressures such as the apprenticeship levy is now very visible on the ground, and parents are increasingly worried.

To an organisation like the NUT, the maths is simple. Its 300,000+ members can shout pretty loudly, but millions of parents can shout louder. With the unions facing a battle on two fronts – grammar schools and funding – they are going to need all the help they can get.

This is why groups like Fair Funding for All Schools are increasingly important. While the complaints of teachers and union members are often – wrongly – dismissed as scaremongering, parents make up a huge chunk of the electorate, and were already starting to organise before an election was even announced.

Jo Yurky, a mum of two from Haringey and founder of Fair Funding for All Schools, told the NUT conference last week that she was confused when she heard the head of her local secondary talk about needing to increase class sizes. She thought funding was protected, and had believed the government when it said it was spending a record amount on schools.

“Teachers and head teachers are trusted by parents – we leave our children in their care each day,” Yurky told teachers.

“They are speaking out publicly about their concerns out of desperation, because they are so worried about the financial situation in our schools. When headteachers speak, parents listen.”

Education funding is also a key campaign issue for Labour. Jeremy Corbyn has accused Theresa May’s government of breaking the 2015 manifesto commitment to protect the money following pupils into schools.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, pledged last week to restore the role of the Local Education Authority and “fully-fund” schools, although the party will now have to explain in detail what this means in its upcoming manifesto (and where the money will come from).

However, this isn’t a partisan issue. Tory MPs Michael Fabricant, Tom Tugendhat, Maria Caulfield and James Duddridge are among those to have spoken out in parliament about cuts faced by schools in their constituencies under the proposed new school funding formula.

The government wasn’t due to publish its final funding plans until the summer anyway, but has rejected calls for it to bring the announcement forward to better inform voters, blaming pre-election purdah rules.

It is admirable to move cash around the system so it is more equitable for people in different places, but without injecting extra cash, ministers are simply moving inadequate levels of funding around, and children will lose out in the end.

It is no longer acceptable to parents, teachers, school leaders and children for the government to peddle its line that there is record funding going into schools. There are also record numbers of pupils in the system, so you’d hope that this would be the case.

Urgent action is needed to properly equip schools for the additional cost pressures they face, and if this doesn’t happen soon, Theresa May is going to see a lot more than just a few union activists attempting to block her road back to Downing Street.

 

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

By Richard Morris from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

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Labour’s best general election bet is Keir Starmer

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

The shadow secretary for Brexit has the heart of a Remainer - but head of a pragmatic politician in Brexit Britain. 

In a different election, the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer might have been written off as too quiet a man. Instead - as he set out his plans to scrap the Brexit white paper and offer EU citizens reassurance on “Day One” in the grand hall of the Institute of Civil Engineers - the audience burst into spontaneous applause. 

For voters now torn between their loyalty to Labour and Remain, Starmer is a reassuring figure. Although he says he respects the Brexit vote, the former director of public prosecutions is instinctively in favour of collaborating with Europe. He even wedges phrases like “regulatory alignment” into his speeches. When a journalist asked about the practicality of giving EU citizens right to remain before UK citizens abroad have received similar promises, he retorted: “The way you just described it is to use people as bargaining chips… We would not do that.”

He is also clear about the need for Parliament to vote on a Brexit deal in the autumn of 2018, for a transitional agreement to replace the cliff edge, and for membership of the single market and customs union to be back on the table. When pressed on the option of a second referendum, he said: “The whole point of trying to involve Parliament in the process is that when we get to the final vote, Parliament has had its say.” His main argument against a second referendum idea is that it doesn’t compare like with like, if a transitional deal is already in place. For Remainers, that doesn't sound like a blanket veto of #EUref2. 

Could Leave voters in the provinces warm to the London MP for Holborn and St Pancras? The answer seems to be no – The Daily Express, voice of the blue passport brigade, branded his speech “a plot”. But Starmer is at least respectful of the Brexit vote, as it stands. His speech was introduced by Jenny Chapman, MP for Darlington, who berated Westminster for their attitude to Leave voters, and declared: “I would not be standing here if the Labour Party were in anyway attempting to block Brexit.” Yes, Labour supporters who voted Leave may prefer a Brexiteer like Kate Hoey to Starmer,  but he's in the shadow Cabinet and she's on a boat with Nigel Farage. 

Then there’s the fact Starmer has done his homework. His argument is coherent. His speech was peppered with references to “businesses I spoke to”. He has travelled around the country. He accepts that Brexit means changing freedom of movement rules. Unlike Clive Lewis, often talked about as another leadership contender, he did not resign but voted for the Article 50 Bill. He is one of the rare shadow cabinet members before June 2016 who rejoined the front bench. This also matters as far as Labour members are concerned – a March poll found they disapproved of the way Labour has handled Brexit, but remain loyal to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Finally, for those voters who, like Brenda, reacted to news of a general election by complaining "Not ANOTHER one", Starmer has some of the same appeal as Theresa May - he seems competent and grown-up. While EU regulation may be intensely fascinating to Brexiteers and Brussels correspondents, I suspect that by 2019 most of the British public's overwhelming reaction to Brexit will be boredom. Starmer's willingness to step up to the job matters. 

Starmer may not have the grassroots touch of the Labour leader, nor the charisma of backbench dissidents like Chuka Umunna, but the party should make him the de facto face of the campaign.  In the hysterics of a Brexit election, a quiet man may be just what Labour needs.

What did Keir Starmer say? The key points of his speech

  • An immediate guarantee that all EU nationals currently living in the UK will see no change in their legal status as a result of Brexit, while seeking reciprocal measures for UK citizens in the EU. 
  • Replacing the Tories’ Great Repeal Bill with an EU Rights and Protections Bill which fully protects consumer, worker and environmental rights.
  • A replacement White Paper with a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the single market and the customs union. 
  • The devolution of any new powers that are transferred back from Brussels should go straight to the relevant devolved body, whether regional government in England or the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Parliament should be fully involved in the Brexit deal, and MPs should be able to vote on the deal in autumn 2018.
  • A commitment to seek to negotiate strong transitional arrangements when leaving the EU and to ensure there is no cliff-edge for the UK economy. 
  • An acceptance that freedom of movement will end with leaving the EU, but a commitment to prioritise jobs and economy in the negotiations.
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Could tactical voting stop Brexit?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Could tactical votes soften the Brexit blow?

Could tactical voting save Britain from the hardest of exits from the European Union?

That's the hope of Open Britain, which has unveiled a list of 20 seats held by supporters of a hard Brexit (19 Conservatives and one Labour MP, Kate Hoey) in areas that either split evenly in the referendum or backed a Remain vote, and a list of 20 seats held by pro-Europeans: among them Labour MPs Pat McFadden and Liz Kendall, Liberal Democrat MPs Nick Clegg and Tom Brake, and Caroline Lucas, the Greens' sole MP. (Read the full list here.)

"Remain group seeks to oust pro-Brexit MPs" is the Guardian's splash. The intiative has received the thumbs up from Peter Mandelson on Newsnight and Tony Blair in the Guardian. But will it work?

A quick look at the seats in question shows the challenge for anyone hoping for a pro-European front to frustrate Brexit. Theresa Villiers has a majority of more than 7,000 over Labour: and if you're a voter in Chipping Barnet who backed a Remain vote because you were worried about your house price, is Jeremy Corbyn really the answer to your problems? (That said, it's worth noting that thanks to the scale of the 2015 defeat, Chipping Barnet is one of the seats Labour would have to win to get a majority in the House of Commons.)

Or take, say, Kate Hoey in Vauxhall, one of the few people in Labour who can claim to be a unifying figure these days. Yes, she is deeply unpopular in her local party who have mounted several attempts to remove her. Yes, Vauxhall voted heavily to Remain. But - as Jessica Elgot finds in her profile for the Guardian- it also has a large amount of social housing and has more children living in poverty than all but 51 other seats in the House of Commons. There are a great number of people who believe their own interests are better served by sending a Labour MP to Westminster rather than refighting the referendum.

That's a reminder of three things: the first is that the stereotype of the Remain vote as people straight out of the Boden catalogue misses a number of things. The second is that for many people, Brexit will take a back seat.

But the big problem is that you can't make an anti-Brexit - which, by necessity, is essentially an anti-Conservative - alliance work if the main anti-Conservative party is so weak and unattractive to most people. "Voting pro-European" may give Labour's Corbynsceptics a way to advocate a vote for Labour that doesn't endorse Jeremy Corbyn. That doesn't mean it will succeed in stopping Brexit.

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Byron burgers and bacon sandwiches: can any politician get away with eating on camera?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Memo to aspirant world leaders: eating in public is a political minefield.

Miliband’s sandwich. Cameron’s hot dog. Osborne’s burger. The other Miliband’s banana. As well as excellent names for up-and-coming indie bands, these are just a few examples of now infamous food faux pas committed by British politicians.

During his entire mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan refused to eat anything in public. When journalist Simon Hattenstone met him in his local curry house for the Guardian, the now-mayor didn’t eat a single bite despite “dish after dish” arriving at the table. Who can blame him? Though Ed Miliband had been pictured blunderingly eating a bacon sandwich an entire year earlier, the national furore around the incident had not yet died down. “He can make me look Clooneyesque or make me look like Ed eating a bacon sandwich,” Khan said of the photographer at the time.

Miliband’s bacon sandwich is now so infamous that I need offer no explanation for the event other than those words. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the photograph of Ed, lips curled and eyes rolling, as he tucks into that fateful sarnie. Yet politicians frequently bite off more than they can chew – why did Ed’s mishap inspire multiple headlines and an entire front page of The Sun?

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“The momentum got behind the bacon sandwich story because he was awkward, it showed him in a light which was true - he was an awkward candidate in that election,” says Paul Baines, a professor of political marketing at Cranfield University. “He didn’t come across right.”

The photograph of Miliband fit neatly within a pre-existing image of the politician – that he was bumbling, incompetent, and unable to take control. Similarly, when David Cameron was pictured eating a hot dog with a knife and fork months later, the story reinforced popular notions of him as a posh, out-of-touch, champagne-swilling old Etonian. Though Oxford-educated, two-kitchen Miliband is nearly as privileged as Cameron, and Brexit-inducing Dave equally as incompetent as Ed, the pictures would not gain the same popularity in reverse. There are many, many less-than-flattering pictures of Cameron eating, but they didn’t fit into a workable narrative.

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No one, for example, focused on the price of Ed’s sandwich. Purchased at New Covent Garden Market, it was undoubtedly more expensive than Greggs’ £1.75 bacon roll – but no one cared. When George Osborne was pictured eating an £8 Byron burger whilst cutting £11.5m from the British budget, however, the picture spoke to many. The then-chancellor was forced to explain that “McDonalds doesn't deliver”, although, as it turned out, Byron didn’t either.

“The idea was to try and display him in a good light – here's a guy eating a burger just like everyone else. The only problem was it was a posh burger and of course he didn't look like everyone else because he was spending ten quid on a burger,” explains Baines.

But Dave, Ed, and George are just the latest in a long, long line of politicians who have been mocked for their eating habits. Across the ocean, Donald Trump has been lambasted for liking his steak well done, while in 1976, Gerald Ford was mocked after biting into the inedible corn husk of a tamale. Why then, do politicians not copy Khan, and avoid being pictured around food altogether?

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“Food connects everybody, food is essentially a connection to culture and the 'every person',” explains Baines. “[Nigel] Farage's appearance in the pub has definitely had a positive impact on how he's perceived by a big chunk of the working class electorate which is an important, sizeable group.” Though Cameron, too, has been pictured with pints, his undeniably weird grasp on the glass make the pictures seem inauthentic, compared to Farage whose pints are clearly at home in his hands. In America, Joe Biden managed to capture the same authenticity with an ice-cream cone.

“I think when it comes across badly is when it comes across as inauthentic,” says Baines. “If I were advising, I certainly wouldn't advise Theresa May to be seen in the pub having a pint, that would not shine with her particular character or style. But could Tim Farron come across better in that way? Possibly but it does have to be authentic.”

Food, then, can instantly make a politician seem in or out of touch. This is especially true when food connects to national identity. Tony Blair, for example, publicly claimed his favourite dish was fish and chips despite earlier saying it was fettuccine with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and capers. In the 1980s, Lord Mandelson allegedly mistook mushy peas for guacamole, insulting us all. In the States, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician who hasn’t been pictured with a hot dog, and there are entire articles dedicated to US politicians who eat pizza with a knife and fork. Again, the food fits a narrative – politicians out of touch with the common person.  

Then again, sometimes, just sometimes, no narrative is needed. We’d advise any candidate who seriously wants a shot in the 2017 General Election to not, under any circumstances, be pictured casually feeding a Solero to an unidentified young woman. 

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Quoting psychoanalysts – and other innovative ways of coming up with lines of poetry

By Paul Batchelor from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Three new collections of poetry – Stranger, Baby, Jackself, and Cain  test the limits of the lyric and of writing the self in extremis.

Stranger, Baby, by Emily Berry
Faber & Faber, 61pp, £10.99

Jackself, by Jacob Polley
Picador, 80pp, £9.99

Cain, by Luke Kennard
Penned in the Margins, 100pp, £9.99

Here are three new collections by poets who in various ways are testing the limits of the lyric and writing the self in extremis. The poems in Emily Berry’s second collection, Stranger, Baby, concern grieving the death of one’s mother. One of the many risks that Berry runs is to be mistaken for a straightforwardly autobiographical poet. These poems frequently feel close to unmediated candour and, throughout, we seem to be in the presence of a single voice (albeit one on the brink of emotional fragmentation) and a single personality.

In fact, they are constructed of many voices and they collage quotations from a number of psychoanalysts, which may account for the way they introduce psychic tumult by striking an unnervingly matter-of-fact tone: “You must imagine it like this . . .” or “This is the body’s way of handling emotion . . .” They are at once more intelligently crafted and more saturated with feeling than most poems, refracting the loss again and again, suspicious and vigilant:

I wrote: The sea! The sea! as if that might be a solution

Didn’t we always suspect the pain of intelligent people was truly the most painful?

The sea – that timeless and inescapable symbol of the unconscious, the memory, the mother – is a near-constant presence in the book, as in “Picnic”:

Imagine trying to pick up a piece of the sea and show it to a person

I tried to do that

All that year I visited a man in a room

I polished my feelings

The striking metaphor for analysis, and Berry’s unusual angle of approach, are impressive, but the subtle sense of alienation that pervades Stranger, Baby has even more to do with her use of that slightly awkward “a person” instead of the more expected “someone”. Of course, what Berry mistrusts above all is the polishing of feelings: if grief is to be written with honesty, it must be written as the ragged, ugly trial that it is. “Drunken Bellarmine” ends with the warning:

. . . DON’T LOVE ME: I am guilty,

fatalistic and sticky round the mouth like a dirty baby.

I am a shitting, leaking, bloody clump of cells,

raw, murky and fluorescent, you couldn’t take it.

Stranger, Baby is a daring, hard-won collection of poems.

I vividly remember the first time I read R F Langley’s “Man Jack”, and it still seems to me one of the most remarkable poetic creations of recent decades. Inspired by the OED’s enormous list of entries for “jack”, the poem shakes loose a new, timeless character and lets him range across English folklore and song. It begins:

So Jack’s your man, Jack is your man in things.

And he must come along, and he must stay

close, be quick and right, your little cousin

Jack, a step ahead, deep in the hedge, on

edge, a kiss a rim, at pinch, in place, turn

face and tip a brim, each inch of him, the

folded leaf, the important straw. What for.

“Man Jack” is also a technical tour de force, resolving syllabics and traditional prosody into a seamless music. It would be cruel but not entirely inaccurate to say that Jacob Polley’s latest collection, the T S Eliot Prize-winning Jackself, spends 80 pages trying to do what Langley accomplished in 90 lines. Here is Jackself’s playmate Jeremy Wren:

tell us what’s wrong, Jeremy Wren,

crouched in the corner, spitting no blood,

robust in bladder and bowel, your toes

untouched by fire or flood,

no cold wind blows

there’s hair on your feet and mint

in your groin and tonight

is milk, tomorrow cream

and the day after that

a herd that lows

from your very own

meadowland of light

The rhythms are borrowed, but at least Polley’s imagery can be relied on to transport the reader to his spooky version of northern England, where Jack Frost stalks the suburbs “wearing his homemade thousand-milk-bottle-top/winter suit”. The trouble is that it’s only a matter of time before a Literary Influence barges in and spoils it for everyone. Even if you don’t know “Man Jack”, the shades of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Walter de la Mare and Marianne Moore intrude; and it is dismaying that in Polley’s fourth book Ted Hughes still acts as if he owns the place. At one point Jackself and Jeremy Wren go night-fishing in “the kidney-coloured pool/all the streams of England run into”. This reworks Hughes’s signature poem “Pike”, in which the poet night-fishes a pond “as deep as England”.

The most telling moments come when Polley confronts the question of precursors. In “The Lofts”, the timid Jackself stands among “the skeletons of past Selves” such as “Edwardself, Billself/Wulfself” but runs away scared before he can claim “the silence that was yours/by birth”. In “Snow Dad”, the more proactive Jeremy Wren makes a larger-than-life replica of his father so that he can “run clean through him/and leave a me-hole”. Sadly, we are yet to see Polley’s me-hole. His skills are beyond doubt, but his ambitions feel derivative and his last collection, 2012’s The Havocs, attempted and achieved far more than Jackself.

In Luke Kennard’s Cain the trope of the alter ego gets a more contemporary treatment: the only thing here “resplendent in the twilight” is a supermarket logo when the poet wants to buy booze. The poems tell the story of a character, “Luke Kennard”, preyed upon by the mysterious Cain, “Tutelary spirit of the fugitive and/heavenly advocate for fan fiction”. Part guru and part tormentor, Cain cajoles the poet into a series of damning self-assessments: “Self-Portrait at Primary School” begins “I was so obliging I let the weirdest, smelliest kid pick on me/because I thought it might make him feel better” and ends “And even at the time it struck me: maybe I was the dangerous one”. To some extent this is ground that Kennard has covered before, but Cain is an altogether darker creation, written from the doldrums between youth and middle-age (the stretch that people who don’t hate themselves call their “prime”).

The second section of the collection consists of 31 anagrams of Genesis 4:9-12, in which the Lord curses Cain for the murder of Abel. This generates such phrases as “Huff on that cheroot, doorman! How’s the deathshroud, honeydew? From here on all will be [Static.]”. Many of the anagrams would be almost entirely resistant to sense, but surrounding them, like exegesis bordering a sacred text, are prose glosses explaining how the Cain anagrams are in fact the product of a surreal sitcom. Written from the perspective of a rabid fan of the show, the glosses regale us with trivia, interviews with the cast and crew, and fan theories on the meaning of each anagram/episode.

The result is hilariously reflexive about the self-imposed challenges Kennard has taken up, as the anagrams howl through the language like a prisoner through the bars of his cell. It feels strange to describe a book of poems as gripping, but Cain is so profoundly funny and so profoundly sad, so inconsolably intelligent and so brilliantly vulnerable, that “gripping” is the word. 

Paul Batchelor is the director of the creative writing programme at Durham University. His poetry collection “The Sinking Road” is published by Bloodaxe

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It’s Much Bigger Than Afghanistan: U.S. Strategy for a Transformed Region

By Barnett Rubin from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

The use of a large conventional bomb against an Afghan tunnel complex occupied by Islamic State militants recently captured the media’s imagination. Talking heads rushed to discern the meaning of the decision. Was it President Donald Trump sending a message to North Korea? Was the president even involved in the decision? It turns out that ...

Tackling the MS-13 Problem: A New Designation for a Hybrid Threat?

By Frank J. Cilluffo and Sharon L. Cardash from War on the Rocks. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Just days ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fixed his sights sharply on the MS-13 gang and, in particular, the brutal violence and crimes the group has perpetrated — including against children — in the United States. He even suggested the group “’could qualify’” as a terrorist organization. That characterization matters, in part because an official ...

SRSLY #90: Girls / The Knowledge / My Favorite Murder

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Caroline and Anna discuss the final episode of Girls, the black cabbie documentary The Knowledge and the true crime podcast My Favorite Murder.

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 tickets for our Twin Peaks quiz at srslypod.com/events.

Girls

Anna’s piece on whether the girls in Girls were ever friends.

The Vulture piece we mention comparing the end of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life with the end of Girls.

Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow on the ending.

The Knowledge

The trailer.

A good (if short) review.

My Favorite Murder

The podcast.

For next time:

We’re playing Lumino City.

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]gmail.com.

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]gmail.com, 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 #89, check it out here.

Forget the flat caps – this is what Labour voters really look like

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 25, 2017.

Young, educated women are more typical than older, working-class men. 

In announcing the snap election, Theresa May set out her desire to create a “more united” country in the aftermath of last year’s referendum. But as the campaign begins, new YouGov analysis of over 12,000 people shows the demographic dividing lines of British voters.

Although every voter is an individual, this data shows how demographics relate to electoral behaviour. These divides will shape the next few weeks – from the seats the parties target to the key messages they use. Over the course of the campaign we will be monitoring not only the “headline” voting intention numbers, but also the many different types of voters that make up the electorate. 

Class: No longer a good predictor of voting behaviour

“Class” used to be central to understanding British politics. The Conservatives, to all intents and purposes, were the party of the middle class and Labour that of the workers. The dividing lines were so distinct that you could predict, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, how someone would vote just by knowing their social grade. For example, at the 1992 election the Conservatives led Labour among ABC1 (middle-class) voters by about 30 percentage points, while Labour was leading among C2DE (working-class) voters by around 10 points.

But today, class would tell you little more about a person’s voting intention than looking at their horoscope or reading their palm. As this campaign starts, the Conservatives hold a 22 per cent lead among middle-class voters and a 17-point lead among working-class voters.

Age: The new dividing line in British politics

In electoral terms, age is the new class. The starkest way to show this is to note that Labour is 19 points ahead when it comes to 18-to-24-year-olds, and the Conservatives are ahead by 49 points among the over-65s. Our analysis suggests that the current tipping point – which is to say, the age at which voters are more likely to favour the Conservatives over Labour – is 34.

In fact, for every ten years older a voter gets, their chance of voting Tory increases by roughly 8 per cent and the chance of them voting Labour decreases by 6 per cent. This age divide could create further problems for Labour on 8 June. Age is also a big driver of turnout, older people being far more likely to vote than young people. Buy it’s too early to tell the exact impact this could have on the final result.

Gender: The Conservatives’ non-existent “women problem”

Before the last election David Cameron was sometimes described as having a “woman problem”. Our research at the time showed this narrative wasn’t quite accurate. While it was true that the Conservatives were doing slightly better among young men than young women, they were also doing slightly better among older women than older men.

However, these two things cancelled each other out, with the result that ultimately, the Conservatives polled about the same among both men and women. Going into the 2017 election, women are, if anything, slightly more likely overall (by 3 percentage points) to vote Tory.

Labour has a large gender gap among younger voters. The party receives 42 per cent of the under-40 women’s vote, compared to just 32 per cent among men of the same age – a gap of 10 points. However, among older voters this disappears almost completely. When you just look at the over-40s, the gap is just 2 points – with 21 per cent of women and 19 per cent of men of that age saying they will vote Labour.

With both of the main parties now performing better among women overall, it’s the other parties that are balancing this out by polling better among men. Ukip has the support of more men than women (by 2 percentage points), while the gender gap is 3 points for the Lib Dems.

Education: The higher the qualification, the higher Labour’s vote share

Besides age, education has become one of the critical electoral demographic dividing lines. We saw it was a huge factor in the EU referendum campaign and, after the last general election, we made sure we accounted for qualifications in our methodology. This election will be no different. While the Conservatives lead in all educational groupings, their vote share decreases for every extra qualification a voter has, while the Labour and Lib Dem vote share increases.

Among those with no formal qualifications, the Conservatives lead by 35 points. But when it comes to those with a degree, the Tory lead falls to 8 points. Education also shapes other parties’ vote shares. Ukip similarly struggles among highly educated voters, polling four times higher among those with no formal qualifications than those with a degree.

Income: Labour’s tax increase won’t affect many Labour voters

For Labour, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has already made income part of this campaign by labelling those who earn above £70,000 a year as “rich” and hinting that they may face tax rises. One of the reasons for the policy might be that the party has very few votes to lose among those in this income bracket.

Among those earning over £70,000 a year, Labour is in third place, with just 11 per cent support. The Conservatives pick up 60 per cent of this group’s support and the Lib Dems also perform well, getting almost a fifth (19 per cent) of their votes.

But although the Conservatives are still the party of the rich, Labour is no longer the party of the poor. They are 13 points behind among those with a personal income of under £20,000 a year, though it is worth noting that this group will also include many retired people who are poor in terms of income but rich in assets.

Chris Curtis is a politics researcher at YouGov. 

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A guide for Secretary Tillerson: Let State focus on diplomacy, USAID be accountable for assistance

By George Ingram from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Rumors abound, most recently in an article today in Foreign Policy that, along with draconian cuts to foreign assistance, the administration is contemplating merging the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) into the Department of State. This follows a March 13 White House executive order directing agencies within six months to submit a reorganization plan…
      
 
 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Moulds a Successor in His Image

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

The candidacy of Ebrahim Raisi dooms Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chances of winning a second term in next month’s elections, writes CFR’s Ray Takeyh. Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has long been groomed to become the Islamic Republic’s next supreme leader.

Shock Wales YouGov poll shows that Labour's Ukip nightmare is coming true

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

The fear that voting Ukip would prove a gateway drug for Labour voters appears to be being borne out. 

An astonishing new poll for the Cardiff University Governance Centre and ITV Cymru shows a historic result: the Conservatives ending a 167-year wait for an election victory in Wales.

The numbers that matter:

Conservatives: 40 per cent

Labour: 30 per cent

Plaid Cymru: 13 per cent

Liberal Democrats: 8 per cent

Ukip: 6 per cent

Others: 3 per cent

And for context, here’s what happened in 2015:

Labour 36.9 per cent

Conservatives 27.2 per cent

Ukip 13.6 per cent

Plaid Cymru 12.1 per cent

Liberal Democrat 6.5 per cent

Others 2.6 per cent

There’s a lot to note here. If repeated at a general election, this would mean Labour losing an election in Wales for the first time since the First World War. In addition to losing the popular vote, they would shed ten seats to the Tories.

We're talking about a far more significant reverse than merely losing the next election. 

I don’t want to detract from how bad the Labour performance is in a vacuum – they have lost 6.9 per cent of their vote on 2015, in any case the worst election performance for Labour in Wales since the rout of 1983.  But the really terrifying thing for Labour is not what is happening to their own vote, though that is pretty terrifying.

It’s what’s happened to the Conservative vote – growing in almost every direction. There is some direct Labour to Tory slippage. But the big problem is the longtime fear of Labour MPs – that voting for Ukip would be a gateway drug to voting for the mainstream right – appears to be being realised. Don't forget that most of the Ukip vote in Wales is drawn from people who voted Labour in 2010. (The unnoticed shift of the 2010-5 parliament in a lot of places was a big chunk of the Labour 2010 vote went to Ukip, but was replaced by a chunk of the 2010 Liberal Democrat vote.) 

If repeated across the United Kingdom, the Tory landslide will be larger than the 114 majority suggested by the polls and a simple national swing.

As I’ve said before, polls are useful, but they are not the be-all and end-all. The bad news is that this very much supports the pattern at elections since the referendum – Labour falling back, the Tories losing some votes to the Liberal Democrats but more than making up the loss thanks to the collapse of Ukip.

The word from Welsh Labour is that these figures “look about right” at least as far as the drop in the Labour vote, though of course they have no idea what is going on with their opponents’ vote share. As for the Conservatives, their early experiences on the doorstep do show the Ukip vote collapsing to their benefit.

One Labour MP said to me a few days again that they knew their vote was holding up – what they didn’t know was what was happening to their opponents. That’s particularly significant if you have a “safe seat” but less than 50 per cent of the vote.

Wales has local elections throughout the country on 4 May. They should provide an early sign whether these world-shaking figures are really true. 

Photo: Getty

France votes for hope over fearmongering

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Macron’s first-round victory helps to stem the nationalist tide

Britain’s energy market is faulty but not broken

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Number 10 should exhaust all options before giving up on competition

Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency – can he?

By Anjuli Shere from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing the US president to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’s tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “HR 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely actually to achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well known – the long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the EPA where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes HR 861 implausible?

Well, the ten-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the EPA. In the event that the EPA was abolished, all of these laws – from the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 to the Frank R Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act of 2016 – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand, when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trump appointed to the helm of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the EPA 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggest that most Americans would also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the EPA, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the EPA and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, leading to a slew of angry alternative environmental agency Twitter accounts. Some, like “Angry National Park”, are still acting as political aggregates – fighting the new administration’s agenda by disseminating information on both national and grassroots movements in short, snappy bursts. This Friday Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the EPA’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes, such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the web page of the EPAs Office of Science and Technology, in which all references to “science-based” work were removed in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the EPA's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He came to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the EPA, its influence and funding are being leached away. HR 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’s Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the EPA’s landscape. With Pruitt as EPA administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” EPA and “Alt” National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

MPs should follow Emmanuel Macron's example and stand up to the far right

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Where does a liberal centrist's victory fit into your narrative of inevitable decline? 

“Après le #Brexit, le printemps des peuples est inévitable !” wrote the far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, days after Brexit. Well, the blossom is on the trees, and Le Pen is through to the second round of the French presidential elections, so presumably we’re bang in the middle of that inevitable “people’s spring”. 

After all, a referendum that left Britain’s metropolitan elite weeping into their EU flags was swiftly followed by the complete overturning of US political and ethical traditions. Donald Trump defied polling and won the Presidency, all the while proclaiming he was “Mr Brexit”.  

Then, in December, the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held a referendum on constitutional changes and lost. Both Europhiles and Eurosceptics read the runes. Ukip’s on and off leader Nigel Farage crowed of 2016: “First we had the Brexit deliverance, then the Trump triumph, then the Italian rebellion. Democracy and the rebirth of the nation state!”

As this illustrates, the far-right want you to believe all these results are linked, and that they represent a popular, democratic movement. In the UK at least, the liberal left has drunk the English champagne. Labour is agonising over how to reconnect with “traditional” voters Ukip is apparently so in touch with – which don’t seem to include ethnic minorities, young people and those living in cities. Being “tough on immigration” is the answer to modern woes, and globalisation is a dirty word that can only represent multinational interests and not, say, cheaper food on the table. 

There are debates to be had about globalisation, of course, and the lingering impact of the 2008 financial crash, and the fact wages haven’t risen, and public services have been cut, and that in some northern towns, people from different ethnic backgrounds live segregated lives. But if the first round of the French presidential election can do us one favour, it’s to dispense with the narrative that there is something inevitable about the end of liberalism. 

Emmanuel Macron, an unapologetically pro-EU social, economic and political liberal, led the way in the first round of the French presidential election. The polls put him on course to become President.

If he wins, perhaps it’s time to revisit the narrative of decline. To remind ourselves that Hillary Clinton, now written off, won the popular vote in the United States, and among growing demographics of voters too. That a far-right  Austrian presidential candidate was defeated in 2016. That as recently as March, the Dutch mainstream prevailed against the far-right original Trump, Geert Wilders, and that the left-green leader Jesse Klaver enjoyed a surge instead. And that, although it’s now commonplace to assume Canada is just “nicer” in electing a liberal, Justin Trudeau, his party actually overturned nearly a decade of tar sands Conservative rule. 

Should liberals start to join these dots, voters should have the right to ask why both Labour and the Conservatives have jumped on the populists' bandwagon so eagerly. Why, among previously economically liberal Conservatives, are Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry left as lone voices on the back benches. And why, in Labour, is patchy research linking depressed wages and immigration now exhalted as long-established fact? 

Liberalism may be out of fashion, but it’s not dead yet, as any of the Tory MPs in south-west marginal seats know too well. By the time Farage’s “independence day” on 24 June arrives, the narrative may have changed again. 

 

Getty

How To Restore Free Speech on Campus

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Elliott Abrams reflects on free speech and his recent visit to University of California, Berkeley.

France's Stage Is Set for Final Vote With Consequences for the World

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Writing in the Nikkei Asian Review, Philip Gordon sees the upcoming French election as a referendum on globalization, with implications for the world. 

The Deep Dive podcast: Mandates and Manifestos

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

The New Statesman's Deep Dive podcast.

Ian Leslie and Stewart Wood return for another episode of the Deep Dive. This time they're plunging into the murky world of election promises with Catherine Haddon, resident historian at the Institute of Government. Together they explore what an electoral mandate means, what a manifesto is for, and why we can't sue the government when they fail to keep their promises.

Plus: Rant or Rave? Find out which podcasts have had our hosts on tenterhooks.

Listen to this episode of The Deep Dive now:

 

GETTY

Ukraine Fights Its Shortfall of Trust in Education

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

An ambitious effort is underway to strengthen the country’s educational institutions and change incentive structures to address corruption.

Why Prince wanted to make his listeners feel inadequate

By Toby Litt from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Prince aimed to make his listeners want to have him or be him. He did not like them to consider themselves his equals.

Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex and God in the Music of Prince, by Ben Greenman
Faber & Faber, 304pp, £17.99

During his mid-Eighties imperial phase, stretching from the eruption of “When Doves Cry” to the corruption of “Alphabet St”, Prince was a global object of desire: hyper-talented, cool, funny and charming. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to have him or be him. Have him or be him, covetousness or envy – those two reactions are more than a little negative. And more than a little negative is how I felt about both Prince and Ben Greenman when I got to the end of Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex and God in the Music of Prince, a book as cumbersome as its title. Published a year after his death, it didn’t make me hate Prince as much as Blake Bailey’s monumental takedown Cheever: a Life made me despise John Cheever, but it came close.

The Prince we meet in anecdotes and legal depositions from both before and after his imperial phase is cranky, petty-minded and grasping. This may be because Greenman, who contributes to the New Yorker and has assisted George Clinton and Brian Wilson with their memoirs, is a much more entertaining writer when ripping Prince to bits than when attempting to build a shrine from his mortal remains. Here Greenman is, in flat-footed praise mode yet inadvertently dissing his subject: “From Stevie Wonder, he took mastery. From David Bowie, he took mystery. All of these influences were ingested and digested until Prince, nourished, went about making something new.” Follow that metaphor through and Prince’s “something new” can only be faecal.

But here is Greenman criticising the fall-from-grace album Graffiti Bridge. “The only thing holding back these epics from unconditional greatness is their poor aerodynamics,” he writes. “They’re like ­giant whiteboards filled with flow charts and equations: diagrams of how to make a Prince song work at top speed without actually working at top speed.” That simile, of subsonic flying whiteboards, is ridiculous but accurate – and captures something of what Prince is like when he is his diagrammatic rather than his funky self.

There are great insights here. Some are offhand, such as, “What is Purple Rain, the movie, but an argument for collaboration?” Others are more laboured but worthwhile as mini-obituaries: “Prince was a flamboyant star with a penchant for intellectual ­exploration, but he was also a sly comedian, a critic of existing soul music stereotypes, and a massive egomaniac.”

Elsewhere, the prose is pretentious, bathetic and nonsensical in equal measure. Of Prince’s alter ego Camille, ­Greenman writes, “This pitch-shifted version of Prince hovered between male and female and, in the process, cracked open previously conventional issues of power, sexuality, ego and
id.” Clearly, Prince/Camille had no issue with the superego – or, at least, didn’t feel the need to hover and in the process crack it.

By the end, I felt that this book was a fitting monument to Prince: glib and unsatisfying. When I listen to his music, I feel that something is being taken from me rather than given. At best, I end a song such as “Kiss” feeling disburdened, floating, freer; at worst, I feel hungry, swizzed, abused. And I think this is deliberate. Prince aimed to make his listeners want to have him or be him. He did not like them to consider themselves his equals. Making them feel inadequate was the whole point.

There is a clip of him performing Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” with three members of the band. Each time the chorus comes up and everyone in the room sings, “I-i am everyday people,” you can see Prince struggling to join in, because he’s thinking, “You may be, but I’m not.”

I don’t doubt that the latter-day Prince could be a magnificent performer. The fewer musicians he had with him, the better he got. Fans left his concerts feeling that they’d been at the greatest gig in their life, but Prince was the inventor of the after-show after-show. For super-fans, there was always another gig at a smaller, more obscure venue, starting at three or five o’clock in the morning. Just when it looked like he could give no more, it turned out – wearyingly – that he was inexhaustible. There was always more of the same. More 15-minute funk jams. More cheeky covers intended to prove that Prince was a more talented musician than the songs’ composers, because he could insert a half-diminished seventh chord where they’d strummed E minor. Worst of all, there were more and more muso excursions into 1970s fusion. It’s a fundamental question: if Prince was such a great musician, why did he play such God-awful jazz?

In the end, as a fan who had adored every­thing he did up to Lovesexy, I became angry with him and stopped listening. So did Greenman: “When I started working on this book, I promised myself that I would listen only to Prince’s music. I had enough to last me months. But about six weeks in, the Prince-only diet started to feel claustrophobic and maybe even a little ghoulish . . .” What Greenman found, I think, is that in Prince’s musical world the space gets perpetually smaller, because ultimately all the singer wants you to concentrate on is his self-aggrandisement. It’s fitting that Prince kept his unreleased recordings in “the vault” – a place for miserly hoarding of surplus value.

The ghoulishness of the Prince diet is that it gives no proper nourishment. It’s there in the lyrics to one of his offhand masterpieces: “Starfish and coffee/Maple syrup and jam/Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine/And a side order of ham”. This isn’t soul food. You’ll be hungry an hour later.

Greenman’s most revealing footnote – about himself and about his subject – concerns another creepy, slave-driving manufacturer of confectionery. “The movie side of Warner Bros had [in the early 1990s] just acquired the rights to remake Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . . . Prince, I thought, would be perfect for the part . . . I wrote a long letter to Warner making the case but was too shy to send it.”

In this book, that long letter is finally delivered. Prince was a perfect Wonka. 

MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

The Need to Change Palestinian Political Culture

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will be visiting Washington soon and will call for a renewed commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state. But both opinion polls, and actions by the Palestinian Authority glorifying terrorism and terrorists, suggest that Palestinian political culture is oriented to violence and revanchism, not to peace. Elliott Abrams argues that a change in Palestinian political culture is a necessary precondition for real peace.

The Need to Change Palestinian Political Culture

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will be visiting Washington soon and will call for a renewed commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state. But both opinion polls, and actions by the Palestinian Authority glorifying terrorism and terrorists, suggest that Palestinian political culture is oriented to violence and revanchism, not to peace. Elliott Abrams argues that a change in Palestinian political culture is a necessary precondition for real peace.

The failed French presidential candidates who refuse to endorse Emmanuel Macron

By Hugo Drochon from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

While the candidates of the main left and right parties have endorsed the centrist from nowhere, others have held back. 

And breathe.

At 8pm on Sunday night France, Europe, and much of the West let out a huge sigh of relief. After over a month of uncertainty, scandals, rebounds, debates and late surges, the results of the first round of the French Presidential Election was as predicted: Emmanuel Macron (24 per cent) will face off against Marine Le Pen (21 per cent) in the second round of the election on the 7 May.

While polls have been predicting this face-off for a while, the shocks of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump had thrown polling predictions into doubt. But France has a good track record when it comes to polling, and their surveys are considered some of the most reliable in the world. The irony is that this uncertainty has meant that the polls have never been so central to a campaign, and the role of polling in democracies has been a hot topic of debate during the election.

The biggest surprise in many ways was that there were no surprises. If there was a surprise, it was a good one: participation was higher than expected: close to 80 per cent – on par with the Presidential Elections of 2012 – whereas there were concerns it would be as low as 70 per cent. Higher participation is normally a bad sign for the extremes, who have highly motivated voters but a limited base, and who often do better in elections when participation is low. Instead, it boosts the traditional parties, but here instead of the traditional right-wing Republican (Fillon is at 20 per cent) or Socialist parties (Hamon at 6 per cent), it was in fact the centre, with Emmanuel Macron, who benefited.

So France has so far not succumbed to the populist wave that has been engulfing the West. The contagion seemed to be spreading when the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi lost a referendum on reforming the constitution, but the fightback started in Austria which rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its Presidential election and voted for the pro-European, former-Green independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen. Those hopes now rest on the shoulders of Macron. After having dubbed Angela Merkel the leader of the free world during his farewell tour of Europe, Barack Obama gave his personal blessing to Macron last week.

Many wondered what impact Thursday night’s shooting on the Champs-Elysées would have. Would it be a boon for Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration platform? Or even right-wing François Fillon’s more traditional law and order approach? In the end the effect seems to have been minimal.

In the second round, Macron is currently predicted to beat Marine Le Pen by more than 60 per cent of the vote. But how does Le Pen almost double her vote in the second round, from around 20 per cent to close to 40 per cent? The "Republican Front" that saw her father off back in 2002, when he received only 18 per cent of the vote, has so far held at the level of the two traditional political parties. Both Hamon and Fillon have called to vote for Macron in the second round to stop the Front National - Hamon put it nicely when he said he could tell the difference between political opponents, and opponents of the Republic.

But not everyone is toing the line. Sens Commun, the anti-gay marriage group that has supported Fillon through thick and thin, said that it will not call to vote for either party – a thinly veiled invitation to vote for Le Pen. And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative, Catholic and anti-EU right wing candidate, whose 5 per cent is the reason Fillon didn’t make it to the second round, has also abstained from calling to vote for either. It is within this electorate that Le Pen will look to increase her vote.

The other candidate who didn’t call to vote for anyone was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell back on a demagogic position of saying he would follow the wishes of his supporters after having consulted them. But as a spokesperson for the FN pointed out, there are remarkable congruities between their respective platforms, which can be categorised as a populism of the left and a populism of the right.

They in particular converge over the question of Europe. Aping Brexit, both want to go to Brussels to argue for reform, and if none is forthcoming put membership of the Eurozone to the electorate. While Le Pen’s anti-Europeanism is patent, Mélenchon’s position is both disingenuous and dangerous. His Plan A, as he puts it, is to attempt reform at the European level. But he knows fine well that his demands, which include revoking the independence of the European Central Bank and putting an end to austerity (the ECB, through its massive programme of quantitative easing, has already been trying to stimulate growth) will not be met. So he reverts to his Plan B, which is to leave the European Treatises and refound Europe on a new basis with like-minded members.

Who those members might be he hasn’t specified, nor has he explained how he would leave the EU - at least Le Pen had the decency to say she would put it to a referendum. Leaving the European Treatise has been in his programme from the beginning, and seems to be the real object of his desires. Nonetheless, having set himself up as the anti-Le Pen candidate, most of his supporters will vote for Macron. Others will abstain, and abstention will only help Le Pen. We’ve been here before, and the last thing we need now is complacency.

 

Getty

A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

By Mark Garnier from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Apr 24, 2017.

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Wikipedia.

Election 2017: 30 MPs at risk from a Lib Dem surge

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents.