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WorldStarHipHop founder Lee 'Q' O'Denat dead at 43

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Tributes pour in for O'Denat, who reportedly died in his sleep on 23 January.

Trump's voter fraud claim 'based on evidence'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The president's claim that millions illegally voted is based on unspecified studies, says the White House.

CCTV captures moment British businessman is shot dead in Thailand

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Expat Tony Kenway was murdered as he sat in his Porsche in Pattaya.

The White House Clings to False Claims of Massive Voter Fraud

By Emma Green from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Two and a half months after the 2016 election, Donald Trump is still concerned about voter fraud—even though he has yet to produce credible evidence to substantiate his claims. During a press conference on Tuesday, a reporter asked his press secretary, Sean Spicer, whether the president believes “millions” of people voted illegally in this election, as he reportedly claimed in a closed-door meeting with congressional leaders on Monday. That would be enough votes to erase Hillary Clinton’s margin, handing Trump a popular-vote lead to go along with his Electoral College victory.

“The president does believe that,” Spicer said. He “stated his concerns [about] voter fraud and people voting illegally during the campaign, and he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.” Later, Spicer incorrectly claimed that a 2008 Pew Research Center study shows that 14 percent of people who had voted “were non-citizens.”

While it may be Trump’s belief that voter fraud is a significant problem, there is no evidence to support that claim. Spicer is right that this isn’t a new issue for Trump—the Republican championed the topic on the campaign trail, right up until Election Day.

After he won, though, and Democrats attempted to challenge his victory in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, Trump reversed his position. In a filing in the Michigan case, his campaign argued that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.” Even after winning the election, getting inaugurated president, and arguing in court that voter fraud didn’t affect the outcome of the 2016 election, Trump still can’t let this issue go, suggesting that he’s still bothered by his incomplete victory.

Voter fraud is a ghost-like issue, cyclically raised by politicians to cast doubt on the legitimacy of electoral outcomes. But concerns about voter fraud are not founded in credible evidence. “By any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare,” wrote Justin Levitt in a 2007 Brennan Center report on the issue. Most cases of purported voter fraud actually involve typographical errors or other technical mistakes made by citizens who are eligible to vote, he reported. And the kind of fraud Trump has alleged—that millions of non-citizens voted in 2016—is practically non-existent. As Levitt wrote:

We are not aware of any documented cases in which individual non-citizens have either intentionally registered to vote or voted while knowing that they were ineligible. Given that the penalty (not only criminal prosecution, but deportation) is so severe, and the payoff (one incremental vote) is so minimal for any individual voter, it makes sense that extremely few non-citizens would attempt to vote, knowing that doing so is illegal.

Although there are a few recorded examples in which non-citizens have apparently registered or voted, investigators have concluded that they were likely not aware that doing so was improper.

Spicer was most likely referring to a Pew Report published in 2012—it’s one Trump cited on the campaign trail. In that report, Pew’s researchers argued that the voting system is inaccurate, costly, and ineffective, and that voting rolls contain millions of incorrect entries or registrations for dead people. But those are issues with registration; they don’t indicate that invalid votes are actually being cast. Their findings do not support the claim that widespread voter fraud has taken place; after Trump pointed to this report on the campaign trail, one of the report’s authors disagreed on Twitter with the conclusions he’d drawn from it. Trump’s other favorite piece of evidence for widespread voter fraud—an article on a Washington Post blog written by Old Dominion University professors—has widely been debunked.

It’s also conspicuous that, despite claiming the existence of the most massive electoral fraud in American history, Trump has not ordered an investigation, or any corrective action. Repeatedly pressed by reporters to explain the absence of an investigation on Tuesday, Spicer said only, “maybe we will,” later adding, “let's not prejudge what we may do in the future.”

Other Republicans are not backing Trump up on this issue. On Tuesday, The Hill reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters he has “seen no evidence” that 3 to 5 million non-citizens voted in November, as Trump reportedly claimed. Mike Huckabee, the former Republican presidential nominee who has been very supportive of Trump, told Fox News he has “no evidence whatsoever, and I don’t know that anyone does, that there were that many illegal people who voted, and frankly it doesn’t matter.” Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, was more circumspect, saying only that voter fraud happens, and that “there are always arguments on both sides about how much, how frequent and all the rest,” according to The Hill.

In the lead-up to the election, voter fraud was a major topic of discussion. Republicans and Democrats in various states filed dueling lawsuits over Trump supporters’ efforts to deter fraud by monitoring polling stations, which Democrats saw as an attempt to intimidate voters. Now that he’s won, Trump is still using fraud claims to cast doubt on the election results; he wants to make his victory appear even bigger than it actually was. Trump is “very comfortable with his win,” Spicer said at the press conference Tuesday. The fact that he’s obsessed with voter fraud, despite all the evidence, suggests otherwise.

Governor Jerry Brown's blunt message to Trump: 'California is not turning back. Not now, not ever'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Veteran Democratic California governor vows to protect immigrants and fight deportations.

Trump Moves Closer to Announcing a Supreme Court Nominee

By Clare Foran from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Donald Trump is moving closer to naming a Supreme Court nominee to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. The president told reporters Tuesday that he plans to finalize a decision on the nomination this week and make an announcement next week. According to a White House press-pool report, Trump assured reporters that the nominee will be “truly great.”

So who will Trump nominate? Citing anonymous sources “familiar with the search process,” Politico reported on Tuesday that Trump is trying to decide between three potential nominees: Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman, and Bill Pryor, with Gorsuch and Hardiman as the frontrunners.

All three names appeared on a list of potential nominees released by the Trump campaign in September—a list that, needless to say, did not mention former President Obama’s own Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, whose nomination languished last year when Senate Republicans refused to even hold hearings on his possible addition to the court.

Here’s more on the potential nominees:

Neil Gorsuch: Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 2006 after being nominated by President George W. Bush. He earned a law degree from Harvard University and worked as a law clerk from 1993 to 1994 for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who often acts as the high court’s swing vote. Gorsuch also worked in the Justice Department from 2005 to 2006.

He has also been compared to Scalia. In an article examining his Supreme Court prospects, the Los Angeles Times described Gorsuch as “a highly regarded conservative jurist best known for upholding religious-liberty rights in the legal battles over Obamacare.” The report added that his proponents believe he has “a devotion to deciding cases based on the original meaning of the Constitution and the text of statutes, as did the late Justice Antonin Scalia.”

Thomas Hardiman: Hardiman was nominated by the second Bush president to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and confirmed by the Senate in 2007. He received a law degree from Georgetown University and, prior to his current judgeship, served as a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

His judicial record might dovetail with Trump’s controversial calls for “law and order.” “A 2007 ruling Hardiman wrote upheld the constitutionality [of] strip searches of jail prisoners regardless of how minor an offense they were accused of,” Politico noted earlier in the month. The report added that although “Hardiman has backed First Amendment rights in the context of political donations, he took a narrower view in a 2010 suit over an arrest for videotaping a police officer during a traffic stop, holding that there was no clearly established First Amendment right to record such an event.”

Bill Pryor: Pryor has been a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit since 2004 and was also nominated by Bush. He was born in Mobile, Alabama; graduated with a law degree from Tulane University; served as the Alabama state attorney general from 1997 to 2004; and currently serves on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Pryor once called the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which protected a woman’s right to an abortion, “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” During a confirmation hearing to consider his nomination to the Eleventh Circuit, Pryor told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes “abortion is morally wrong,” though he added: “I am able to put aside my personal beliefs and follow the law, even when I strongly disagree with it.” SCOTUSblog writes that Pryor “has been a strong proponent of religious freedom, [and] has been perhaps surprisingly receptive to claims of discrimination by LGBTQ plaintiffs,” noting that he once joined an opinion “holding that Georgia officials violated the equal protection clause when they fired an employee for being transgender.”

For now, other potential Supreme Court nominees may also be under consideration. But whoever Trump nominates could meet stiff resistance from Democrats, who’ve condemned their Republican counterparts’ obstruction of Garland’s nomination. “If the nominee is out of the mainstream, we will do our best to keep the seat open,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told CNN on Sunday, adding that he was “hopeful that President Trump may nominate someone who is mainstream and could get bipartisan support.” If the nominee doesn’t satisfy Democrats, Republicans will find themselves on the opposite end of a partisan battle over the vacant Court seat, which began almost immediately after Scalia died last year.

Trump believes millions voted illegally, Sean Spicer says without giving proof

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he has 'seen no evidence to that effect'.

Will Trump Cut Medicare and Social Security?

By Russell Berman from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

One of the most consequential decisions President Trump will make in the coming weeks and months is whether to pursue an overhaul of entitlement programs that Republicans have long championed.

Trump pledged repeatedly on the campaign trail not to cut Medicare or Social Security. But once his nominee for budget director, Representative Mick Mulvaney, takes office, he plans to advise the president that keeping that promise threatens the programs’ survival.

“It’s going to take difficult decisions today in order to avoid nearly impossible ones tomorrow,” Mulvaney told the Senate Budget Committee, arguing that “fundamental changes” are needed to rein in a national debt that has grown to nearly $20 trillion.

During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Mulvaney became the latest Trump Cabinet pick to articulate a key difference of opinion with what the president outlined as a candidate. Under questioning from Republicans and Democrats, the South Carolina conservative stood firmly behind his long-held views supporting an increase in the retirement age and trimming Medicare benefits for wealthier recipients currently under age 55. And he said he would not shy away from presenting those views to Trump, even if they contradicted the president’s position.

“I’d like to think that’s why he hired me,” Mulvaney told Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee at one point.

Trump’s selection of Mulvaney to head the Office of Management and Budget surprised many in Washington, given that the third-term congressman had been one of the most outspoken debt and deficit hawks in the House. While Mulvaney has backed Speaker Paul Ryan’s drive to partially privatize Medicare, Trump sought to differentiate himself from his GOP presidential rivals by denouncing that plan and pledging to protect entitlements. He’s also vowed to pursue the kind of major spending package on infrastructure that Mulvaney and other conservatives in Congress opposed when it was proposed by the Obama administration. Trump has seemed to embrace another entitlement change proposed by Republicans on Capitol Hill—shifting Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage to low-income people,  to a block-grant program in which each state would get a fixed sum of money, potentially less than what they currently receive from the federal government. Currently, the amount of money a state receives is based on how many people there enroll in Medicaid.

Mulvaney’s supporters presented him to the Senate as a straight-shooter who would give Trump the unvarnished truth about the budget, and he embraced that characterization in his testimony. “I haven’t exactly been a shy member of Congress in my six years here, and I don’t expect to end that here today or if I am confirmed as director of OMB,” Mulvaney said.

The entitlement question dominated the hearing, far more than another issue that had threatened to complicate Mulvaney’s confirmation: his disclosure, in filings to the committee, that he had failed to pay more than $15,000 in federal income taxes on a household employee his family hired to help with their triplets in the early 2000s. Unpaid taxes have derailed nominees in the past, but after Chairman Mike Enzi of Wyoming gave Mulvaney the chance to explain, just one Democrat raised the issue again for the rest of his testimony.

He was contrite, telling the senators that he had considered the employee “a babysitter” and that it never occurred to him that he’d have to pay taxes on her until he saw a now-standard inquiry about household employees on a government questionnaire two days after his nomination.

“It became immediately clear to me that I’d made a mistake and that the IRS viewed our babysitter as a household employee for whom we should have withheld taxes,” Mulvaney said. “I did the only thing I knew to do, which is simply tell everybody who I thought would care.” That included Trump and the Senate. He reported having repaid the federal taxes and said he would pay any states levies, penalties, and fines he might owe.

Senators were far more interested in Mulvaney’s position on entitlements, and as the hearing unfolded, both Democrats and Republicans pressed him on his differences with Trump. In this case, however, it was Republican senators who wanted Mulvaney to repudiate the president. Mulvaney stopped short of that, but when Graham asked him if he would warn Trump that ignoring the rising cost of entitlements would imperil his ability to drive down the debt, Mulvaney replied that he would. Corker went even further. “Mr. Trump did say some things during the campaign that I wish he had not said,” he said. “Totally unrealistic. They make no sense whatsoever.”

Democrats had already signaled they were unlikely to support Mulvaney based on his record in the House. But they were alarmed at his statements on entitlements. “After that exchange, I think folks on Social Security and Medicare should be really worried,” Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said. Worried that Mulvaney’s comments would be misconstrued, GOP Senator Pat Toomey urged him to clarify that none of the party’s plans called for cutting benefits for those in or near retirement, only younger people. “No, sir,” Mulvaney said. “I’m not making my parents go back to work. They are 74 years old.”

Mulvaney said he would present a full range of “fact-based” options to Trump, including the possibility of raising taxes, the choice preferred by Democrats that both he and the president have opposed in the past.

Mulvaney did please Democrats on one point: When Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon raised the uproar over the attendance at Trump’s inauguration and asked him to identify which of two photographs—from Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 and Trump’s on Friday—Mulvaney picked 2009.

But as on entitlements, he did not back down on other issues. Asked by Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia whether he believed it was “fact” that climate change partially caused by human activity represented a risk to the public, Mulvaney first questioned its relevance and then replied: “I challenge the premise of your fact.” (He later said there was “some science” to indicate climate change was occurring but was not convinced human beings contributed to it.) And Mulvaney stood by an earlier remark that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created under the 2010 Wall Street reform law, was “a sick, sad joke.”

“We have created, perhaps inadvertently, the worst kind of government entity,” he told senators, criticizing the CFPB’s lack of accountability to Congress.

As budget director, Mulvaney will be in a position to influence Trump on almost every issue. But from a political standpoint, none is as potentially explosive as a debate over the future of Medicare and Social Security. Democrats have vowed to resist any effort to cut those programs, either now or in the future. Mulvaney made his position clear on Tuesday. Soon it’ll be up to the president whether to pick that fight.

Bana Alabed: Syrian tweeting girl pens letter to Trump

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

"You must do something for the children of Syria," writes a girl famous for her tweets from Aleppo.

Ikea recalls chair amid reports of collapse and injuries

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Furniture giant Ikea recalls a beach chair after reports that it can collapse and cause injury.

Environment agency 'faces media blackout' under Trump

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

EPA staff banned from releasing press statements, blog updates and social media posts, Associated Press reports.

Professionalism, Propaganda, and the Press

By Adam Serwer from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, called Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first official press conference a “tour de force.” That’s not strange, because Trump advisers’ main rhetorical approach is to reflect their boss’ penchant for exaggeration. What’s strange is that much of the media seemed to agree.

Two days earlier, reporters from mainstream outlets had panned a bizarre appearance by Spicer in which, flanked by photographs of the inauguration, he loudly berated the media, saying that the press had “engaged in deliberately false reporting” for failing to note that “this was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration––period––both in person and around the globe.” Spicer also berated a reporter for erroneously reporting that Trump had removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the White House, even though the reporter had apologized on social media, an apology Spicer accepted.

While many outlets reported that Spicer had “attacked the media,” many more emphasized that Spicer’s claims about crowd size were comically wrong, and reported that Spicer was lying. Spicer falsely stated that the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority had concluded “that 420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama's last inaugural.”

The ridership on the day of Obama’s 2013 inaugural was 782,000, compared to 570,557 for Trump’s; there were 1.1 million rides on Metro on the day of Obama’s first inaugural in 2009. It was less Spicer’s incorrect numbers, though, than his demand that reporters disbelieve what they had seen with their own eyes, that sparked a backlash.

Spin, obfuscation, eliding context, or even lying by omission––these are normal acts of dishonesty expected from political spokespeople. It is the job of press secretaries to put a gloss on the facts that makes their boss look good. In administrations run by both parties, this has sometimes turned into outright lying or dishonesty.

Spicer’s behavior however, was so different in degree so as to be different in kind––he was demanding that reporters report that 2+2 =5, and chastising them for failing to do so. He was not merely arguing for a different interpretation of the facts, he was denying objective reality. Both Spicer and the mainstream press used that first encounter to establish the ground rules of their relationship, drawing lines for what each would allow the other to get away with.

But any suggestion that the Trump administration’s reliance on, in Conway’s coinage, “alternative facts,” would lead to the mainstream press adopting a more permanent adversarial approach to the White House dissipated the next day, as Spicer drew rave reviews for repeating many of the same lies he offered on Saturday, along with new ones, simply because he did so without yelling.

Consider: Spicer insisted that the WMATA numbers were correct based on what we “knew at the time,” but WMATA’s public statements on the day of the inauguration about ridership at 11 AM made it clear that Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than Obama’s two inaugurations.

Spicer  went on to repeat his lie from Saturday about crowd size, then insisted that he was talking about online viewership numbers, while misstating those as well.  He suggested that he’d been referring to the online viewership combined with the in-person crowds and not both. “Again I didn't say in person,” he said. “Both in person and around the globe, to witness it.” But that claim was belied by his attack on the press on Saturday for insisting that “photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall.”

Later, Spicer repeated his attack on a reporter for misreporting that a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. had been removed from the White House, and then mischaracterized an apology he had previously publicly accepted.

SPICER: I think you guys might want to leave before I do. But look, I want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship. We saw the other day that -- and I'm not trying to rehash history, but you're asking the question so I'm going to answer it. You know, we had a Tweet go out about Martin Luther King.

Think about how racially charged that is. And someone rushes out and says to the entire press corps that the president of the United States has removed the bust from his office. Do you -- I mean, think about what the signal -- hold on, please.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIC) and apologized?

SPICER: No, no. He actually apologized to "my colleagues." That's the exact quote. OK? That quote, that report got Tweeted out around. And to report -- where was the apology to the president of the United States? Where was the apology to millions of people who read that and thought how racially insensitive that was? Where was that apology?

Both the reporter’s apology and Spicer’s acceptance of that apology remain visible on Twitter. Spicer apparently believes he is entitled to bring the full force of White House condemnation upon a reporter for a mistake for which he apologized, but despite being a public employee, declined to apologize for lying to the American people himself.

There were other absurdities in Spicer’s press conference Monday. He insisted that the CIA had given Trump a “five minute standing ovation” (they were never allowed to sit); after Trump had implied he would go back to Iraq to “take the oil” (which would be plunder, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions) Spicer said “I'm not gonna talk about what we may or may not do”; and he said that the millions of people who marched against Trump on Saturday were “there to protest an issue of concern to them and not against anything.”But none were more blatant than Spicer repeating the very falsehoods that had earned the widespread contempt of the press on Saturday.

The most important thing Spicer said, however, was that “our intention's never to lie to you.” A lie is intentional; it is the nature of the thing. Spicer’s statement indicates that the Trump administration intends to take advantage of much of the mainstream media’s stated ambiguity on falsehoods––that absent Professor Xavier’s telepathy, it is impossible to know if someone is lying or simply truly believes something that is not true, no matter how ludicrous the claim. But Spicer’s somewhat garbled apology, “I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts,” was a true Kinsley gaffe––an admission that the Trump administration intends to  contest  empirical reality, and expect deference from the press for doing so.

Indeed, by Tuesday, Spicer was defending the president’s contention that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the 2017 election. That would be the greatest act of election theft in American history, somehow carried out with such incompetence that it failed to occur in the states necessary to deliver the election to his opponent. His defense of this absurd falsehood was, essentially, that Trump believes it. "He continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence people have presented to him," Spicer said Tuesday.

Yet many reporters echoed Conway’s assessment that Spicer’s press conference on Monday was excellent. A reporter for the Washington Post said that Spicer “handled a difficult situation with “aplomb.” Another said he was doing a “solid, professional job.” A reporter from the Boston Globe said that “this Sean Spicer is closer to the one many of us have known than the one who appeared Saturday. Just one reason that ‘briefing’ was so odd.” A reporter for CNN described this version of Spicer as a “savvy political veteran,” contrasting him with the “propagandist” on display on Saturday.

The verdicts at the major cable-news networks were much the same, even though Spicer had stuck by the very same lies he told on Saturday. Reporters, like theater critics, reviewed his performance and concluded that he seemed very professional while doing it.

Whether it was intended or not, Spicer’s behavior on Saturday did much the same thing for him as Trump’s erratic behavior did for him during the campaign: it set the expectations so low that simply behaving like relatively ordinary press secretary was enough to earn him praise.

The point here is not to single out any individual journalists. The matter here is cultural and structural: Remaining in a permanent state of hostility with the White House goes against the instincts of most mainstream reporters, who seek to remain “objective,” and outlets, which want to attract as wide an audience as possible, and cannot do so as long as they are at war with the administration.

And so the Trump White House now knows that it can lie and get away with it, as long as it does so with a certain amount of “professionalism.” Journalists will have to either acquiesce to the discomfort of a hostile working relationship with the White House as long as the Trump administration insists on offering “alternative facts,” or quietly submit to the notion that two and two can make five. Yet there is simply, no point to political journalism if the press cannot tell the public when the government is lying.

Afcon 2017: Morocco knock Ivory Coast out of tournament

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Morocco beat Ivory Coast 1-0 to reach the Nations Cup quarter-finals and eliminate the defending champions.

Democrat Congresswoman: 'Where are the women' in Trump abortion order picture?

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The US president faced criticism over the lack of female representation.

Rebuilding Trust Between Silicon Valley and Washington

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Since the Snowden disclosures in 2013, the relationship between the U.S. government and the tech community has been strained. This Council Special Report offers recommendations for repairing the relationship and moving forward on issues such as encryption, data localization, and cybersecurity.

Haider al-Abadi: East Mosul fully liberated from ISIL

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Haider al-Abadi says army took back eastern part of city, day after defence ministry retracted earlier claim of victory.

Polish government wins standoff over Gdansk war museum

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

A court ruling enables Poland's nationalist government to reshape a brand new World War Two museum.

Abruzzo avalanche toll climbs to 17 as hopes diminish

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Twelve unaccounted for at hotel in Abruzzo region as second tragedy hits nearby: the crash of an emergency helicopter.

Schulz to run as SPD candidate for German chancellor

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Sigmar Gabriel turns down chance to challenge Angela Merkel in September poll

Trump clears Keystone XL, Dakota Access pipelines

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Two controversial projects that were rejected by Obama to go ahead with Trump's approval.

Oscar nominations more diverse after #OscarsSoWhite row

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Seven of 20 actors nominated for an Academy Award are not white, compared to previous years which had no representation.

Rachel Maddow talks about Trump after recently questioning whether he would send her 'to a camp'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The popular MSNBC talk show host has made her dislike of Trump very clear.

The Divine Comedy Within The Young Pope

By Spencer Kornhaber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

One of the funniest moments of recent TV memory comes in the second episode The Young Pope during a tense meeting between Jude Law’s Lenny Belardo—Pope Pious XIII—and a cardinal who opposed his ascension to the papacy. Belardo asks the cardinal whether he is a homosexual; the cardinal, after a long and pained paused, answers yes. Belardo, silent, reaches to the button beneath his desk that sends a signal to his staff that he needs an excuse to end a meeting.

Into the room comes the papal secretary, Sister Surree. Chipperly: “Time for your snack, Holy Father!”

Belardo lets out a shocked snort of laughter and tries to stifle it. His voice exasperated, unbelieving: “My snack?”

“Yes, Holy Father, your snack.”

“Right,” he says, nodding. “That’s what she calls it. I have to have”—pause—“my snack now. Goodbye, your eminence.” The cardinal, knowing his career to have suddenly and unceremoniously ended, kisses the pope’s hand and leaves.

There are many, many amusing moments in The Young Pope so far, but this might be the best. Belardo has taken pains to seem inscrutable and unswayable; early on, the fact that he’s “a man of little appetite” strikes church officials as ominous. But sweet Sister Surree is apparently not in on the act. Her suggestion that he’s a child who needs to drop everything for snack time is totally wrong, and very hilarious.

Most importantly, though, it’s hilarious to the pope himself.

In the time since it premiered on HBO earlier this month, Paolo Sorrentino’s tale of the Vatican suddenly overtaken by a 47-year-old American who loves Cherry Coke Zero and cigarettes has puzzled viewers about what level of irony it’s operating at. “How Funny Does the Young Pope Want to Be?” asked The Vulture TV Podcast, summing up the primary question confronting critics of the highly stylized, often surreal-seeming drama.

The answer to that question is at the heart of the show’s genius. The Young Pope doesn’t satirize the Vatican; rather, with its meticulous attention to costuming, casting, and ritual, it aims for something close to a realistic depiction. It’s Belardo the character and Sorrentino the filmmaker who are funny. The two each bring keen perception, wit, and a flair for surprise to an unchanging, ancient place. The fundamental concern here is faith’s ludicrousness—both its rococo trappings and its colossal influence on individual lives. Belardo and Sorrentino embrace that ludicrousness fully, wringing from it both laughter and terror.

That Belardo crawls out from a pile of babies in the opening dream sequence of the series suggests, among other things, that being young is more than incidental to this young pope. He brings to a millennia-old institution the eyes of a child; for him and for the camera, there is nothing rote about the cardinals lined up in symmetry, the nuns playing soccer, the magnificent frescos and gardens, the outrageous papal vestments. Humor naturally arises from such a setting when seen fresh—especially when seen from behind the scenes, with holy men and women wielding iPads and wearing novelty t-shirts—perhaps for the same reason that a “a priest walks into a bar” is a cliche.

But the show’s novelty isn’t simply a matter of perceiving anew, it’s also a matter of making something anew. Belardo realizes the extent to which the church has become rote and furniture-like to both those within and outside, and he seeks to re-exoticize it. So he admonishes his cook to ditch the familiar tone she’d grown accustomed to using with previous popes; he refuses to have his image commodified on knick knacks; he keeps the world and his advisers guessing as to his intentions. “Mystery is a serious matter, it’s not some marketing strategy,” his mentor, Cardinal Spence, tells him. But Belardo’s path to mystery involves copious amounts of unseriousness.

Within the safe space of humor, he tests dangerous ideas, as when he confides that he doesn’t believe in god and then says “just kidding.” Through the entertaining power of humor, he gives his testimony more bite, as when he tells his confessor, “I was praying so hard I nearly shit my pants.” And through the luxury of humor—the fact that he is allowed to crack wise when others must remain solemn—he repeatedly asserts his dominance. “I’m not the one dispensing jokes in the Vatican anymore, Your Holiness, now it’s you,” Cardinal Voiello, the Vatican’s increasingly exasperated secretary of state, tells him. Belardo spits back,“First of all, I suggest you recover as soon as possible your legendary fake courtesy. And secondly, my jokes contain the truth.”

Sorrentino’s camera largely lives inside Belardo’s head, which means the filmmaker needs to be as funny as his protagonist. Whether with incongruous soundtrack choices, skewed angles, or jarring cuts between scenes, the show keeps the viewer off-balance and ever-guessing. You can see the blurring between filmmaking sensibility and Belardo’s interiority in the bizarre closing of the latest episode, when the Prime Minister of Greenland dances carefreely to rock music alone in an empty room as facts about her country flash across the screen. The best interpretation I’ve got is that the sequence is the Pope’s flight of fancy, perhaps a sublimation of sexual desire (along the lines of “think about baseball”) or perhaps simply a vision of a life less encumbered than his own.

All of this means that The Young Pope is a machine built to deliver surprise—and surprise is, of course, the essence of comedy. But because comedy is not necessarily the end goal of either Belardo’s or Sorrentino’s mischievous style—newness, wonder, and mystery are—surprise infuses even the most dramatic scenes. Which perhaps explains some of the audience’s confusion about how serious the serious stuff really is.

It’s fair, certainly, to ask whether we’re witnessing parody: Take, for example, a moment in the fourth episode where the pope spies on the laywoman Esther having sex and implores the Virgin Mary to grant her a child, sternly and repetitively ordering an unseen presence in the sky to do his will. But what else should earnest, desperate, stark-serious prayer look like? Belardo may not be certain god exists, but that uncertainty has only made the question of the divine all the more urgent to him. Even if the young pope and The Young Pope are aesthetically irreverent, deep down they are filled with reverence—fear and desire for something beyond this life.

Even within the show itself, this merging of sensibilities—heavenly yearning meets worldly quipping—can breed misunderstanding. In a scene from the most recent episode, Esther speaks with Cardinal Voiello. When she suggests she can sway the pope’s opinions because “he respects me,” Voiello puts his hand over his mouth and muffles a giggle.“I was about to laugh, but I stopped myself because I have a certain class,” he says. “We seriously doubt that the pope even respects God.” He’s wrong—we’ve seen the pope passionately beg repentance from above, we’ve seen his compassion for Esther, and we’ve begun to get the sense that he may even have divine powers. But Voiello has conflated impishness with impiousness. For once on this show, he’s heard a joke where there isn’t one.

Trump’s Dakota Access Pipeline Memo: What We Know Right Now

By Robinson Meyer from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Updated on January 24 at 2:45 p.m.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum ordering the Secretary of the Army to expedite approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,100-mile pipeline linking the North Dakota oil fields to a river terminal in Illinois. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied final approval to the project late last year, after months of protests from the local Standing Rock Sioux tribe and from Native people nationwide.

The text of Trump’s executive memorandum has now been made public. It can be found on Document Cloud. He also issued an executive order expediting the environmental-review and approval process as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

For roughly four hours after these orders were issued, they only existed online in an image from an Associated Press photographer. That version was missing at least a page, and some words were so blurry as to be non-parseable. It also did not include the environmental-review order. At the time, I transcribed the visible text and posted it below for curious readers.

I’ve preserved that transcription below, but the most up-to-date and complete version of the order can be found on Document Cloud.

MEMORANDUM TO THE SECRETARY OF THE ARMY

SUBJECT: Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline

Section 1. Policy. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) under development by Dakota Access, LLC, represents a substantial, multi-billion-dollar private investment in our Nation’s energy infrastructure. This approximately 1,100-mile pipeline is designed to carry approximately 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil from the Bakken and Three Forks oil production areas in North Dakota to oil markets in the United States. At this time, the DAPL is more than 90 percent complete across its entire route. Only a limited portion remains to be constructed.

I believe that construction and operation of lawfully permitted pipeline infrastructure serve the national interest.

Accordingly, pursuant to the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby direct as follows:

Sec 2. Directives. (a) Pipeline Approval Review. The Secretary of the Army shall instruct the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), including the Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, to take all actions necessary and appropriate to:

(i) review and approve in an expedited manner, to the extent permitted by law and as warranted, and with such conditions as are necessary or appropriate, requests for approvals to construct and operate the DAPL, including easements or right-of-way to cross Federal areas under section 28 of the Mineral Leasing Act, as amended, 30 U.S.C. 185; permits or approvals under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344; permits or approvals under section 14 of the…

[…]

(c ) Nothing in this memorandum alters(?) any Federal, State, or Local process or condition in effect on this date of this memorandum that is necessary to require access from an owner of private property to construct the pipeline and facilities described herein. Land on an (?????)  or land for the pipeline and facilities described herein may only be acquired consistently with the Constitution and applicable State Laws.

Sec 3. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:

(i) the authority granted by Law to an executive department, or agency, or the head thereof; or

(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or Legislative proposals(?).

(b) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.

(c ) This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities; its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

Donald J. Trump

Trump backs Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

President's support for Keystone XL and Dakota Access proves he is a climate threat, critics say.

The Meaning of 'Access' to Health Care

By Olga Khazan from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Representative Tom Price, President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has a word he uses often when he talks about his vision for health care in the United States: “access.”

“Access” kept coming up as the Georgia Republican answered questions from the Senate Finance Committee at his confirmation hearing Tuesday. Senator Ron Wyden asked Price if people would be worse off under the executive order Trump penned right after his inauguration, which instructs agencies to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [Affordable Care Act].” Wyden is asking, essentially, if Price would stop enforcing Obamacare, and if so, if people would suffer.

Price had this to say: “What I want I commit to, Senator, is working with you and every single member of Congress to make certain we have the highest quality health care and that every single American has access to affordable coverage.”

He repeated a different version of the same promise a few more times during the hearing, saying, “What I commit to the American people is to keep patients at the center of health care. And what that means to me is making certain every single American has access to affordable health coverage,” and, “There are so many things that we ought to be focusing on to make certain again that the American people have access to the highest quality care that's affordable for them.” At another confirmation hearing last week, Price struck a similar tone, saying the government should ensure that all Americans “have the opportunity to gain access” to insurance coverage .

Price’s emphasis on “access” strikes at a key difference between the Affordable Care Act’s approach to health insurance and that of the Republican Obamacare replacement proposals.

Obamacare is somewhat top-down: You don’t just have access, you are guaranteed health insurance, and you face a penalty if you don’t take the government up on it. A lot of people resent this and consider it “socialized medicine,” but what Democrats are aiming for is “universal coverage”—everyone is covered, no matter who they are or how much money they have. That’s a big change from before Obamacare, when people could be categorically denied health insurance for a number of reasons. Republicans, meanwhile, have started advocating for a middle path, something they call “universal access.” Under their plans, not everyone would have health insurance, and indeed, Americans wouldn’t be mandated to carry it. But health coverage would also cease being a basic staple, it would be more like a bespoke thing that everyone, in theory, has the right to buy.

Most of the GOP plans advocate for paring back the types of conditions insurers must cover, and not all of them preclude insurers from charging sick customers more. Several prominent conservative lawmakers have proposed block-granting Medicaid—giving states a set amount of Medicaid money to work with—which many think would make the program less generous and less likely to cover as many people. Finally, the plans advocate for the expansion of health-savings accounts, which give people “access” to medical services—but only if they saved up money first.

The “access” phrase represents Republicans’ interest in making health insurance more consumer-driven, and it’s a concept they extend to other domains of health. Their plans encourage people to select the types of coverage they want, while Obamacare is a standard package of benefits. You can see this in Price’s answer to a question about the contraceptive mandate in Obamacare, which allows women to get birth control without a copay and charges all consumers for the benefit. “The system that we ought to have in place is one that allows women to be able to purchase the kind of contraception they desire,” Price said. (Emphasis mine.)

Of course, not everyone can afford birth control, and Democrats have spent Price’s hearings attacking him for the disparity between the wealthy and poor they fear will emerge under a “universal access” scheme. In one particularly memorable moment from last week’s hearing, Senator Bernie Sanders brought down the full weight of his democratic-socialist rage on Price’s mention of “access.”

“Has access to’ does not mean that they are guaranteed health care,” Sanders said. “I have access to buying a $10 million home. I don’t have the money to do that.”

Is Donald Trump against free trade?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

US president Trump withdraws from Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the agreement harms the US.

Chinese New Year 2017: Here's your horoscope forecast and lucky days for the Year of the Rooster

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Here's our zodiac guide featuring forecasts from masters Tan Khoon Yong, Thean Y Nang and Lillian Too.

Policeman rescues woman from burning car in nick of time

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Washington state police officer Tim Schwering managed to smash through the window of a burning car to free a woman trapped inside.

World Order 2.0

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

There is growing tension between President Trump’s America First doctrine and building order in an interconnected world, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Israel approves construction of 2,500 settlement homes in West Bank

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

It is the second Israeli building proposal to be announced since Donald Trump became US president.

'All of This Space Was Full': A Photographic Fact Check

By Alan Taylor from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

On January 21, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement criticizing journalists for their coverage of President Trump's inauguration. Some media outlets, Spicer claimed, were using photographs of the event in misleading and deceptive ways. To back this claim up, Spicer made a number of assertions that turned out to be false. He offered incorrect D.C. Metro-ridership numbers, and said that white ground coverings had never been used on the Mall during Inauguration before, when they had been employed in 2013. Two days later, during his first press conference, Spicer blamed the bad Metro numbers on an "outside agency" and stated that his claim about the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," was meant to include all viewership, in person and online, rather than referring to the in-person crowd specifically.

One assertion Spicer made in his initial statement and did not amend, however, is that the National Mall was filled to capacity with spectators from the Capitol to the Washington Monument at the time President Trump took the oath of office. This assertion is not true. These were Spicer’s exact words on Saturday: "We do know a few things, so let's go through the facts. We know that from the platform where the President was sworn in, to 4th Street, it holds about 250,000 people. From 4th Street to the media tent is about another 220,000. And from the media tent to the Washington Monument, another 250,000 people. All of this space was full when the president took the Oath of Office."

Without disputing Spicer’s claims about the total capacity of the area he describes, his summary claim that it was "full when the president took the Oath of Office" is demonstrably false. The following photographs taken by Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson show the mall from the top of the Washington Monument. Enlarging the pictures makes it possible to see video screens with President Trump delivering his inaugural speech, complete with visible captions that help establish the time at which they were taken.

Please note that links to (very large) fullsize versions of these photographs are available in some image captions.

Why I find the prospect of an apocalypse comforting

By Sarah Ditum from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

It’s easy to view the idea of the world ending as a “cosy catastrophe” – something retro and nostalgic that has returned to the zeitgeist.

“Cosy catastrophe” is the nickname the sci-fi writer and historian Brian Aldiss applied to the works of John Wyndham, author of The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids. Aldiss did not mean for it to be flattering: “The essence of cosy catastrophe is that the hero should have a pretty good time (a girl, free suites at the Savoy, automobiles for the taking) while everyone else is dying off.”

In other words, the cosy catastrophe is a cop-out. It’s safe. Bad things happen, but they don’t happen to people like us. Whether it’s a fair way to describe Wyndham doesn’t really matter, because while the name caught on, the pejorative intent didn’t. Aldiss had reached for sick burn and accidentally struck deep truth: there is something comforting about the apocalypse.

Nostalgia is part of it. The idea of everything ending was the background radiation to my childhood, and the anticipation of nuclear inferno has a retro charm, like a Fifties circle skirt or a pair of Eighties-style chunky plastic earrings. Watching the 1984 Sheffield-set nuclear drama Threads when the BBC rescreened it in 2003, the world that I saw being obliterated was a world that I recognised: pubs and Woolworths and women with headscarves pinned over their ’dos.

But besides that, there’s also the enormous, gratuitous satisfaction of destruction: there go the windows, there goes all the flesh scorched off the bones, there goes the old egg-box city hall. What a thrill! No wonder the music of apocalypse had so much strut and swagger. The Clash dancing down to the river in London Calling as the flames roll over; Frankie Goes To Hollywood welcoming the new gods of sex and horror on Two Tribes and sounding every bit as randy as they did on “Relax”.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen? According to Threads, you could be slowly poisoned under a pile of mattresses that didn’t – despite the promises of Protect and Survive – keep the fallout off.

You could suffocate in the bowels of the city hall with the rest of the council while the civilisation you sacrificed yourself to protect dies outside.

Or, perhaps worse, you could survive in the ruins: a grey and hungry hell on earth like the one Russell Hoban imagined in Riddley Walker (published in 1980) where, 2,000 years after “the 1 Big 1”, the remaining population speaks a deformed kind of English and refers incredulously to a time when humans had the technology to put “boats in the air and picters in the wind”. If that devastation is possible, why wouldn’t you just leather up and go dancing?

And then, for just a little while, it didn’t seem possible. That’s not to say it hasn’t been possible – the number of countries with nuclear weapons has grown, not fallen, since the end of the Cold War – but it hasn’t felt like a routine political reality to be accommodated. That’s the only explanation for the UK’s attachment to Trident, which is by now a fairly rickety echo of a deterrent. We have enjoyed a quarter-century interval when the inferno did not appear to be imminent.

The withdrawal of that shadow changed the way we thought about ourselves. When Al Alvarez wrote his study of suicide The Savage God in 1971, it made as much sense for him to mention “the possibility of international suicide by nuclear warfare” as it did for Jennifer Michael Hecht to make no mention of it at all in Stay, her 2013 book on the same subject. Four years later, it’s the Hecht that seems strangely dated by this, while the Alvarez comes across as consolingly frank where just a year ago it felt kitschy.

Of course we could blow ourselves up. The ability has never gone away, and now the White House contains the shortest of short fuses, a blunt little orange hand hovering over the button, attached to a man whose few days of power have already disturbed everything about the delicate international balance of power that has kept the unthinkable in the realm of the unlikely.

That’s true not only of nuclear war, but also of climate change, which Trump is apparently determined to pretend isn’t happening even while his energy policy escalates it. This is 2017’s big revival: the end of the world is back, and we’ll have to decide how we face it.

Flickr/RA.AZ

Globally 14 pregnant women could die each day as consequence of Trump's abortion-gag order

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths will rise as consequence of Mexico City Policy re-enactment.

Michael Jackson was murdered, claims daughter Paris in first interview

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Paris, now 18, also reveals she has attempted to take her own life on 'multiple' occasions, in Rolling Stone magazine.

What happens to waxworks of former US presidents?

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

As Donald Trump is immortalised in wax upon moving into the White House, here is a look at what happens to waxworks of former presidents when they leave office.

Man robs Kansas bank to 'escape wife'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The robber waited for police after the heist, saying prison was better than living with his wife.

Philippines taxi driver rewarded for returning valuables

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Reggie Cabututan's honesty wins him a chance to study and work in Australia.

Did I magically make Kate Middleton pregnant? Well – not quite

By Nicholas Lezard from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

“When I ring this bell,” I told my sceptical audience, “William and Kate will conceive a new child”.

And so there is another casualty of the real-estate boom in Marylebone: the Sue Ryder shop on the corner of Baker Street. It is now utterly empty. Bare, ruined choirs where once the sweet, second-hand shirts sang. They had told me it was coming, the sweet till workers who would wave at me when I walked past, but I’d thought we had a couple of weeks yet. I’d wanted to fillet the place for one last bargain, but when the property developers move in, they move in fast. Where is British procrastination when you need it?

Correction: it’s not the property developers, it’s the lease owners. I can guess what’s going to happen: the place will be empty for months until they can find someone who’ll pay through the nose, mouth, ears and the remaining cash-producing orifices through which a human can be bled.

That Sue Ryder shop has been a lifeline since I moved in here, nearly a decade ago. My first purchase was an Aquascutum jacket, which fitted me like a glove and cost only £14.99, a figure so improbably low that my announcement of its price to
a sceptical audience caused the memorable rejoinder, “Another one of your lies.”

Since then, the prices have crept up and, a few months ago, when I saw a fine Paul Smith cashmere overcoat in the window, I was warned off it by a conscientious staff member.

“It’s too much,” she said. She knew my budget. “I’ll write it down for you.” The first figure she wrote was a four.

“That’s enough,” I said. (It was clear that the number she was writing down was going to have more than two digits and no decimal point.)

But I think of the things I have bought there: countless shirts (well, five or so); shoes for various women (there seemed to be no lack of quite unworn classy ladies’ shoes and boots, and if one was strolling past the shop with the woman and pointed them out, there was no stigma in buying a pair); a pair of binoculars; a set of wine glasses (absurdly cheap but, alas, made of breakonium, the most fragile substance on Earth, and all long gone); the set of carpet bowls that were renamed “Hovel bowls” and entertained the children on many a rainy afternoon; and possibly my favourite kitsch knick-knack: a porcelain bell celebrating the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A visitor once looked at it sceptically and an amusing idea popped into my head.

“It’s actually a magic bell,” I said, “intimately connected to their loins, and when I ring it” – I gave the bell a little tinkle – “William and Kate conceive a new child.” I thought this a rather amusing conceit but the next day my visitor rang me, sounding a little spooked.

“Did you know?” he asked.

“Eh? Know what?”

“Look at the news,” he said, and lo and behold, for the date was 8 September 2014 and it had been announced that the woman who will one day be our queen was pregnant with their second child, whose name I forget. You may disbelieve this story about the bell with
as much fervour as you like, but I know it is true and I have a witness, who has looked at me in a new and awed light ever since.

Anyway, the shop has gone. No more the mystic dinner bells, the indoor bowls set, out of which I once extracted a whole column, the spectacular shoes for the women I was walking out with. My last purchase was pretty good: a 1960s Debenham and Freebody overcoat in immaculate condition, maybe a little wide round the body for my slender frame but with arms just the right length; and a silk Christian Dior tie so beautiful (a deep crimson with emerald lozenges) that I bought it even though I only normally wear ties when I have to, in the pavilion at Lord’s.

I asked what was going to happen to the shop. “Offices,” they told me. I suppose it would have been pushing it to convert a plate-glass-fronted shop in a 1960s building to “luxury accommodation”, which is the usual story.

However, all is not bad news. The Beehive – the victim of a fire in 2015, and whose exterior, beneath the scaffolding, has been used as a dosser’s kip-down ever since – has reopened as a pub. Seeing as the other three pubs within walking distance have closed, this is something of a miracle. It was never my favourite of the pubs in the neighbourhood but beggars can’t be choosers. I think I’ll pop over there in my spiffing overcoat and Dior tie and see if I can make any new friends.

Getty

The UK Supreme Court rules for democracy

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Brexit supporters wanted British sovereignty — now they have it

Astana summit: Opposition sets demands for new talks

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Russia, Turkey and Iran pledge to strengthen fragile ceasefire as opposition expresses reservations over Tehran's role.

Oscar nominations 2017: La La Land leads field with 14 nods

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

La La Land is the one to beat at this year's Oscars, having scored a record-equalling 14 nominations.

Meet the world's most attractive men and their literally magnetic bodies

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

In pictures: Three people who claim to have mysterious energy radiating from their bodies, allowing them to stick metal objects to their torsos.

In Praise of Corinne, The Bachelor's Human Conspiracy Theory

By Megan Garber from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

This post reveals minor “plot” points of episode 5 of The Bachelor season 21.

Call it The Corinnetervention. During Monday’s episode of The Bachelor, the women remaining on the show—frustrated to the breaking point at the antics of Corinne Olympios, the season’s resident woman-child—gathered upon a plush couch, wine goblets in hand, and offered her their indictments. Corinne, they said, is overly sexual with Nick Viall, the season’s appointed Bachelor and the women’s collective boyfriend. She is also too immature for the 36-year-old Nick. (It’s not just that Corinne is 24, the women insisted; it’s that—as she is fond of reminding her fellow castmates—she is a 24-year-old who has a nanny.) Corinne, also, is too “privileged.” She is too disrespectful. She slept through a Rose Ceremony. Perhaps above all: In a show in which the frenemyships among the women who are dating the same dude serve as a reliably satisfying b-plot to the central romances, Corinne is decidedly Not Here to Make Friends.

Which makes her, on the one hand, simply that most classic of reality-show characters: Corinne is this season’s appointed villain. She foments drama. She is a bikini-clad agent of chaos. She is a factory-formed fusion of Vienna from Jake’s season and Chad from JoJo’s, with a little dash of Olivia from Ben’s thrown in for good measure: She is wacky, and brazen, and she really, really does not care what you think. But Corinne is also, despite her outspokenness (“I definitely know how to turn on the sex charm,” she says into the camera), a cipher. She invites, even more than disdain from her castmates or delight from her viewers … doubt. With her, the question isn’t just the typical one—is she Here for the Right Reasons?—but also the more basic: Is she here at all? Is Corinne really a 24-year-old “business owner” from Miami, looking for love? Is she an actor? Is she “a preteen girl who got trapped in a Big and/or 13 Going on 30style body-swap”? Is she in on the joke? Or is she simply the butt of it?

The Bachelor, which has spent its 20 previous seasons figuring out what audiences really want from “reality,” is tantalizingly opaque about all of that. In a show that has long derived drama from its villain edits, Corinne offers a newer kind of character, based on a newer kind of trope, based on a newer way of teasing viewers. Corinne Olympios, “business owner” and nanny-haver, is getting the conspiracy edit.

Take her antics on the show. One the one hand, they come from Corinne herself—from the camera’s observations of her behavior and of the commentary she freely gives in the show’s confessional booth. The business owner (and model?) regularly turns on the “sex charm” (so often and openly, in fact, as to prompt Fox News to ask, of the show’s “raunchiest season ever”: “Has The Bachelor gone too far?”). She removes her bikini top while in a pool with Nick. She dresses in a trench coat with very little underneath, to surprise him with 1) herself and 2) a can of whipped cream. Later, on a date at a dairy farm with Nick and the other women, Corinne expresses her distaste for the rustic setting by declaring, “I want to be at a spa, being fed a nice taco. Preferably … chicken.”

But. Corinne’s Corinne-ness has also been enabled—and amplified—by the show’s producers. Last week’s episode of The Bachelor found Corinne surprising Nick, during the pool party he threw for the women to celebrate his birthday, with an enormous bounce castle that had been installed in the mansion’s driveway. Yes, the kind you might see at a kid’s birthday party or a county fair. She took credit for the “surprise.” And then she bounced, in a bandeau bikini top that required censor-blurring from the show’s editors, with Nick. When they fell down, she straddled him. More censors. More sex charm.

And then, just as suddenly and magically as the bounce castle appeared at the Bachelor mansion: The other women got wind of its presence. They left the pool to watch the scene unfold between Corinne and Nick, disgusted with her (and with Nick for indulging her). Nick, meanwhile, told the cameras how much he appreciates Corinne’s sense of fun—fun, he said solemnly, being a key component in any lasting relationship.

What drama, all in all! But of course: If you know anything at all about the behind-the-scenes workings of shows like The Bachelor, it is that the contestants—even the “business owners” who have nannies—have basically no power, within the constraints of the show, to do things like order bounce castles to appear on the mansion’s driveway. The contestants on The Bachelor are, on the contrary, systematically detached from the outside world: They don’t have their devices. They don’t have the internet. They don’t have magazines. (Indeed, one Moment of Drama on JoJo’s season of The Bachelorette came when Vinny smuggled in a contraband issue of InTouch to show the other men.) The castmates have each other, their Moroccan lantern-lit mansion, and whatever little treats—foodstuffs, booze, more booze—the producers see fit to provide them while they live in isolation. It’s an environment meant to put people on edge, for drama-devising purposes; it’s also an environment in which a bounce castle will appear only if a producer decides that a bounce castle should appear.

The show’s audience, generally, understands this. They, too, read InTouch. They, too, understand the machinations that inform “reality.” And so, they will also be unsurprised when, directly after Corinne pulls her stunt with canned whipped cream, an ad for Reddi-wip airs. (The brand has been a sponsor of The Bachelorette, too: Last season, it ran a cheeky ad in which the can had to choose between a bowl of strawberries and a plate of brownies.) And they will know that, when The Bachelor airs footage of Corinne “sleeping through a Rose Ceremony,” the rose she has already received placed delicately next to her, as if she is starring in her own, Moroccan-lantern-lit version of Sleeping Beauty … the odds of this tableau having come together organically are very, very low.

But that’s the appeal: not the scene itself, but the questions it provokes. Is this girl for real? And, relatedly: How real can she be? When Corinne explains of her napping, later on, that “Michael Jordan took naps. Abraham Lincoln took naps,” is she … serious? When she goes on a tirade, after that date at the dairy farm, about her unwillingness to “shovel poopie,” is she … kidding? When she offers an extended metaphor about how she is “a corn husk”—in that “you’ve got to peel the layers back. And then in the middle is this luxury yellow corn with all these little pellets of information. And it’s juicy. Buttery. You WANT to get to that corn. Nick needs that corn”—is she making fun of herself? Or of us, for watching all this absurdity? And for sort of wanting to get that corn?

It doesn’t matter, and that is the genius of Corinne, and of the Bachelor producers who selected/enabled/created her for the show. She is both nihilistic and inclusive, a person to be watched and a puzzle to be solved. She is a walking, talking, castle-bouncing conspiracy theory.

And: She is a product of her times. The Bachelor’s 21st season has found the show offering an official Fantasy league to allow the members of Bachelor Nation to more actively participate in its antics. It’s a season that is airing in the wake of UnREAL, Lifetime’s drama satirizing—but also illuminating the production-side workings of—The Bachelor. It’s also a season that was produced during a presidential campaign that revolved, even more than usual, around actual conspiracy theories. It is airing during a time that familiarized the American public with the coinage “alternative facts.” Nick’s season of The Bachelor, in other words—a season starring a man who has been the subject of some speculation as to whether he, himself, is There for the Right Reasons—is exploiting not just drama. It is also exploiting conspiracy. It is indulging in the paranoid style. It is inviting its viewers to question, to doubt, to peel back that husk to find out whether corn, on its own, can be Buttery.

It’s brilliant. And it’s fit for an age that, even when it comes to the most widely viewed of broadcast TV shows, encourages audience participation. The Bachelor is, in many ways, a 21st-century tribute to P.T. Barnum, the 19th-century showman who understood that the only thing more thrilling than being witness to wondrous things is the ability to question whether those wonders are fake. Barnum understood that reality can be boring—and that “reality,” after awhile, can be, as well. Mystery, though, is enduringly compelling. On Sunday, just before the latest episode of The Bachelor aired on ABC, Corinne’s mother told TMZ, of her daughter’s on-air antics, that “most of it is fake.” Mrs. Olympios, however, prefaced that comment with this: Corinne, her mother confessed, “decided either you are two people that get remembered—the winner or the villain.”

What, exactly, did Corinne “decide” for herself? What exactly, is “fake” here? It’s unclear. But will I be watching The Bachelor next week to try to answer those questions for myself? Without a doubt.

How opposition MPs are planning to challenge Brexit in Parliament

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

After the Supreme Court ruled Parliament must trigger Article 50, MPs are demanding a debate. 

On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court ruled that it should be Parliament, not the government alone, which triggers Article 50 and begins Brexit negotiations. Later that morning, Brexit secretary David Davis appeared in the Commons. 

Flanked by the Prime Minister, Davis declared “this will be the most straightforward bill possible” that would be passed “in good time” to meet the deadline of the end of March 2017. 

The bill would simply give the government the power to invoke Article 50, he said, and said that no one should try to frustrate the legislation.

His opponents worry that Davis is trying to strip down the bill to something that MPs will be unable to amend or properly debate. But if they get the chance, here’s what they are planning:

Tory rebels

Pro-Remain Tories like Dominic Grieve, Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan are focusing their efforts on trying to open up a window for debate. In particular, they are pressurising the government to release a white paper – in essence a detailed Brexit plan. MPs from other parties are likely to back them, and the SNP has specifically tried to include this as an amendment. This is also what the campaigners who originally took the government to court are now asking for

Labour

The Labour leadership is not going to keep Theresa May up at night, with its pledge to vote for Article 50. But her Brexit minister David Davis may nevertheless find himself forced to spend more time in the Commons. True to its stance of not standing in the way of Brexit, Labour has disdained the amendment-happy approach of the SNP and instead picked a few amendments based on scrutiny and accountability. 

However, Labour back benchers from pro-Remain seats may not be so amiable. Backbenchers opposed to Article 50 are waiting to see what their leadership does, but will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one Labour insider put it – whether this is the SNP or the rebel Tories. While a small minority of Labour MPs voted against the motion before Christmas which stipulated Article 50 should be triggered before the end of March, some reckon there are others "keeping their powder dry" (the December motion also called for a Brexit plan).

The Liberal Democrats

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”. If there is not a second referendum, the Lib Dems will vote against Article 50. 

Despite being the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them in the aftermath of the court ruling. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The SNP

The tartan army was quick off the mark with the declaration it would table 50 amendments, in what seems to be an attempt to bore the Brexiteers to death. These include a call for a white paper to be published, which almost everyone outside the government agrees with, but also a need for the government to get unanimous agreement on the Joint Ministerial Committee, which includes representatives from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The SNP may get support from the Lib Dems and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, on individual amendments. Like the Lib Dems, the SNP will vote against Article 50. 

The SNP’s second line of attack is, of course, independence, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon airily asking: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?” However, this threat is looking hollow – support for independence was at just 44 per cent in December.

Other pro-Remain parties

Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, is likely to be in demand from MPs looking for cross-party support for their amendment. Lucas plans to back those she agrees with, and also table her own amendment on the environment. 

The three Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru MPs will also be tabling amendments, and will be supporting other parties in their amendments too. 

 

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Is air pollution damaging your mental health?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

How the black smog and the black dog could be linked.

Between 1 and 8 January 2017, London breached its annual air pollution limits. In just a week, the city broke EU regulations that limit nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions – which are produced by diesel vehicles. It is a publishable, verifiable, undeniable scientific fact that this gas is connected to heart and breathing problems. The UK’s air is dirty, and it is prematurely killing us. But can it also make your life more difficult in the meantime?

Depression; anxiety; Alzheimer’s; poor academic performance – these are just some of the things that scientists have connected to air pollution in recent years. Research is relatively young, and it is dangerous to establish cause and effect too freely, but it now seems apparent that the smog affecting our bodies could also be affecting our brains.

“Our study found that those with higher exposures to fine particulate matter, a type of air pollution, were more likely to experience high anxiety symptom levels,” says Dr Melinda Power, a professor at George Washington University who warns against establishing causality too early. In 2015, Power published her research, which used data from 70,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who then filled out a survey on their anxiety levels. She discovered that fine particles in the air (which come from, among other things, cars and factories) were connected to increased anxiety levels, and that the more recent the exposure, the higher the level of anxiety experienced.

“As relatively little research has been done on the relationship between air pollution and mental health, further research is needed to confirm our findings,” she says, noting that women in more polluted areas may experience other stresses that caused their anxiety.  

When it comes to identifying a cause for the recent epidemic in mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, often simpler explanations get precedence in the media. The idea that social networks like Facebook “make us” depressed has been flying around for years. This is easy for individuals to identify as an affect on their mental health, if it is affecting them that way. But not many of us stop to consider how the invisible air around us might be affecting our mental health, and it is much harder to find any anecdotal evidence of whether this is the case. For more answers, we must turn to science’s most faithful research assistant: mice.

“We got into this research by accident,” says Dr Randy Nelson, a professor at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I was walking across campus and saw a trailer that was being used to expose mice to particulate matter. The work was being directed by a cardiologist who had demonstrated that exposure to fine airborne particulate matter caused inflammation in the heart.

“It seemed reasonable to hypothesize that exposure to this type of air pollution would also cause inflammation in the brain and that is often associated with depression and cognitive impairments.”

Nelson and his team exposed mice to fine particle air pollution in the same high levels that are found in urban areas. They discovered that after ten months, mice exposed to polluted air took longer to complete a maze task than mice exposed to filtered air. More incredibly, the “polluted” mice also exhibited depressive symptoms and “behaviour despair”, such as an unwillingness to swim when placed in water. Researchers at Duke University also found pregnant mice exposed to diesel exhaust had offspring who exhibited increased anxiety.

When I ask Nelson if rising levels of air pollution could be causing rising levels of depression, he says it is “possibly a contributing factor” and points towards other environmental factors – such as bright lights at night interrupting our circadian rhythms. Like Power, he feels that more research needs to be done before such wide-reaching conclusions can be drawn.

But just how much research will be enough to prompt us to act? In 2015, scientists at the University of Utah found a link between air pollution and suicide in middle-aged men. It is also already proven that air pollution affects our physical health, and Power notes that this, in turn, can affect us mentally. “Air pollution may be related to mental health, particularly anxiety, through effects on oxidative stress and systemic inflammation or through promotion or aggravation of chronic diseases,” she says. Put simply, being sick can make us depressed.

(Side note: according to the psychologist Dr Ken McLaughlin, the current “politics of fear” can also increase anxiety, so reading about air pollution also probably doesn’t help. Sorry about that.)

And yet while research about how air pollution affects mental health is in its infancy, there is significantly more information about the link between air pollution and cognitive health. Power has found that men with higher past exposures to traffic-related air pollution had worse cognitive functions. An extensive 2012 article by the American Psychological Association outlines the many studies in this area.

So where does that leave us? A spokesperson for the European Commission, which sets our air quality targets, says the World Health Organisation is now reviewing evidence about mental health, and new targets will take this into account. Power says more “big, high-quality, longitudinal studies are needed”, yet Andrea Lee, a healthy air campaigner for ClientEarth, says we need to act sooner rather than later. “As research continues in all of these areas, what is beyond doubt is that air pollution in the UK is above legal limits,” she says.

Whether they are linked or not, it now clear we are facing two public health emergencies that need more attention. Mental health disorders and air pollution can both prematurely rob us of our lives. Depression can feel like a black cloud that bears down on you from all angles, smothering your entire being. Coincidentally or not, so can smog.

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India airport plan flies into trouble

From Analysis. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

A lack of foreign investors in a new hub for Mumbai highlights the problems of delivering big projects

#OscarsNotQuiteSoWhite

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversies of the last two years, 2017 promises to be a more diverse affair.

Data breaches continue to plague Yahoo as Verizon's $4.8bn takeover delayed

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Yahoo is being investigated by the SEC for allegedly failing to report breaches on time.

Opposition leader Thomas Nahimana prevented from returning to Rwanda, again

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Nahimana has been forbidden to board his flight for the Rwandan capital, officials said.

Stunning Apple iPhone 8 'X Edition' concept debuts with OLED dual-display and liquid metal frame

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Is this what Apple has in store for its anniversary iPhone?

Oscars 2017 major surprises and snubs: Ruth Negga, Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson was swapped out for Nocturnal Animals co-star Michael Shannon too.

Irish women set to go on strike if denied referendum on abortion law

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Women threaten to strike if referendum on abortion ban is not held before 8 March.

Meeting the Son of Your Sister’s Killer

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Kitty Genovese's 1964 murder riveted and horrified the public. Thirty-eight witnesses reportedly watched her being murdered in Queens, New York, and did nothing. Over half a century later, The Witness follows her brother, Bill Genovese, for years as he goes on a search for these eyewitnesses to understand what really happened. Did 38 people really watch Kitty’s death and stand by? It’s the story of a brother’s attachment to his sister as much as it is a quest to uncover the truth. In this excerpt, one of the most memorable scenes from the film, Genovese meets with Steven Moseley, whose father, Winston Moseley, killed Kitty. You can stream the full film on PBS.org until February 6, 2017.

Kansas pensioner robs bank after deciding he'd rather be in jail than live with wife

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The 70-year-old admits robbing Bank of Labor branch following argument with spouse.

There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

By Simon Danczuk from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

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Amnesty International urges Theresa May to challenge Turkey's Erdogan on crackdown

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Exclusive: Human rights group tells IBTimes UK that May should ask some 'probing questions'.

The Trump Administration's First Blow to Obamacare

By Vann R. Newkirk II from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

President Trump is intent on repealing Obamacare. If there were any doubts to the contrary, one of his first official actions in office was to sign an executive order to “minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens of the [Affordable Care] Act.” That order grants the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the Department of the Treasury, and the IRS all authority available under the current law of the ACA to roll back the pieces that make it work.

What could such an order actually accomplish? At first glance, the executive order might look like a symbolic gesture, since the secretary cannot do anything outside of the bounds of the law. But the incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services—presumably nominee Tom Price—has some broad powers granted by the Act itself and sometimes exercised by the Obama administration that could have significant effects on the law, and eventually destabilize health care enough to require a repeal and replacement.

The part of Trump’s executive order that directs the secretary to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of pieces of the law is probably the most worrisome component for supporters of Obamacare. The irony of that component is that it rests on precedent set by the Obama administration, which used executive and regulatory power liberally to make the law work in the face of Republican opposition. The most likely actions under the new executive order expand or reverse Obama-era decisions.

The first and most important of these is the “hardship exemption” from the individual mandate. After the Medicaid expansion to low-income adults was made essentially optional for states after the NFIB v. Sebelius Supreme Court decision, the law left millions of people in non-expansion states in a “coverage gap” with too little income to qualify for exchange subsidies and too much to qualify for Medicaid. Under the mandate, they would have had to pay a penalty for not having insurance, but the Obama administration extended the “hardship exemption” to them without the need of legislation.

The Trump administration could stretch this precedent to grant hardship exemptions to people in places where insurers are leaving markets, or to those facing premium hikes. It could also offer more authority for insurance plans to sell products on the exchanges that don’t meet ACA minimum-coverage requirements, a strategy already pursued by Obama’s 2013 “administrative fix” that allowed some enrollees to keep their plans, even if they didn’t meet ACA standards.

The executive order could also provide more employers with exemptions from the requirement to provide coverage. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will almost certainly grant broader Section 1115 Medicaid waivers to states that can allow them tighter control and less regulatory burden over how they administer and finance Medicaid programs. Those waivers could also allow states to essentially offload more of their publicly-financed insurance programs into privately-managed schemes, or establish provisions like work requirements for coverage. Those provisions would essentially shrink the number of people eligible for Medicaid and probably reduce the number of benefits their insurance provides.

Depending on how far it takes hardship exemptions and relaxation of minimum-benefits plans, the administration could easily weaken the individual mandate just enough to provide whispers of death spirals, especially since it cannot touch the requirement for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. These actions don’t have to kill the mandate to work; they just have to weaken it enough to shake insurers’ and consumers faith in the markets. If insurers and healthy enrollees exit the marketplaces, then premiums will skyrocket for sicker patients—if they have any available insurers left.

Such exemptions would in essence create a hard time-limit for the debate over an Obamacare replacement, since they promise a chain reaction of insurer exits and sickening risk pools. The main constraint to this ambition is legality: Hardships must still actually qualify as hardships, and exemptions can’t fundamentally alter the spending and general shape of the law. And weakening the individual mandate enough to cause death spirals would almost certainly give both insurers and enrollees cause to sue.

But unraveling standing and jurisdiction issues for such complex laws, as well as establishing potential classes for those lawsuits might be expected to take a long time, and the Trump administration could severely weaken the law well before they even enter courts. The threat or eventuality of lawsuits may not be enough to stop aggressive action. The real, immediate limitation appears to be how much the new executive branch actually wants to destabilize markets and disrupt the way coverage works for millions of people.

Global investment court for changing era of trade

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Ad hoc mechanisms for settling investor-state disputes are not fit for purpose

Is Trump's Presidency Off to a Successful Start?

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

From some angles, the Trump presidency is off to a rocky start. There were the somewhat disappointing crowds at the inauguration, and then the needless lies about them, presented as “alternative facts.” There’s the controversy over Trump’s remarks to the CIA, and precisely who in the crowd cheered his visit. On Monday, the president repeated a dumb and unnecessary lie about illegal ballots having cost him the popular vote during a meeting with members of Congress. The Washington Post reports in detail on White House infighting and an attempted reboot—just four days into the administration. ABC’s The Note frowns, “He can’t help himself, and he isn’t helping himself.”

But what if the Trump presidency is actually off to a surprisingly effective start? For months, Trump has shown a perverse ability to overshadow his own message with chaos and disorder, and the first five days of his administration fit right into that pattern.

Take his nominations. Trump started his presidency with unusually few confirmed appointees. That was in large part the fault of his transition team, which has been slow to nominate and slow to vet candidates for the jobs. Many of the nominees who have come to hearings have had a rough go of it. Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson stumbled through his hearing. So did Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos, who seemed in some cases unversed in federal law on education. Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions seems to have misrepresented his record on desegregation. Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of health and human services, is facing down stories about alleged insider trading. Ben Carson, nominated to head Housing and Urban Development, previously said he wasn’t qualified to run an agency and has no experience in housing.

For all that, it seems possible that every one of Trump’s nominees will make it through. None is in certain danger now, especially after wavering Senator Marco Rubio announced he would support Tillerson’s nomination. James Mattis, who needed a congressional waiver to even qualify for the post of secretary of defense, won all but a single vote in the Senate.

That’s better than Barack Obama’s record at the outset of his administration, and he had a huge Democratic majority in the Senate. Tom Daschle (health and human services) and Bill Richardson (commerce) both had to withdraw after investigations. Tim Geithner (treasury) nearly went down over tax discrepancies. Judd Gregg (commerce again) withdrew over differences with Obama.

Or take Trump’s promise to intervene to prevent jobs from leaving the country. That vow, particularly targeted at the air-conditioner manufacturer Carrier, was dismissed during the campaign. But Trump quickly swung into action after the election, and announced a high-profile deal with Carrier to keep jobs in Indiana. The devil was in the details, of course: Carrier was still moving jobs to Mexico; Trump had unusual leverage over Carrier’s parent company, a major contractor; the deal cost taxpayers dearly; many of the “preserved” jobs might still be automated in the future.

But Trump got his symbolic win, and he’s since collected a host of others. Companies have announced expansions of jobs in the U.S. that were already planned or already disclosed, and Trump has hastened to claim credit for them, whether they were his doing or not. CEOs, who are not eager to get on the wrong side of a new president, are in no hurry to set the record straight.

There are plenty of other minor political triumphs underlying all of this. On Monday, Trump met with union leaders at the White House, and even though labor leaders endorsed Hillary Clinton, the meeting apparently went well. Sean McGarvey, president of North America's Building Trades Unions, told Josh Eidelson “it was by far the best meeting I ever participated in” reaching back to 1999. The leaders of both Canada and Mexico have signaled they’re willing to open negotiations on revising NAFTA.

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, show little interest in investigating Trump’s conflicts of interest.

Trump’s conduct over the last few days has lots of observers scratching their heads. The Washington Post’s James Hohmann homes in on Trump as a sore winner, and while it’s impossible to disagree, the president’s insistence on repeating obviously, provably false claims—he had the biggest in-person crowd at an inauguration, or he would have won the popular vote if not for illegal voters—are also arguably an essential political strategy for him. Trump has no apparent interest in policy details or in working the levers of Congress; he has approached the presidency more as a bully pulpit than as a demanding executive role. But it’s a lot harder to use that bully pulpit if you’re not always viewed as a winner, so Trump insists he’s a winner even when he is not.

The result, paradoxically, is that he’s coming out as a winner on many issues. Some of these victories may prove to be pyrrhic. Getting shaky and unprepared nominees confirmed is a good way to produce shaky and unprepared Cabinet secretaries. Retaining manufacturing jobs works well until companies start automating and laying people off anyway.  In other cases, it’s simply too early to be too confident. The chaos within the West Wing that the Post describes bodes ill for an effective administration. Meanwhile, Trump’s early steps in other areas may still fail, or undo him later. His foreign-policy moves continue to inspire queasiness, as do continued reports about ties to Russia. (Of course, predicting the impending collapse of Trump has produced some of the least-accurate forecasts since Millenarianism went out of style.)

But it doesn’t require any alternative facts, only an alternative interpretation, to look at the Trump administration and see a presidency moving forward on many of its key goals and notching political victories. The optics may be bad, but then again, the optics of Trump’s entire presidential campaign were bad, too. It’s the results that mattered.

Pictured: $20m found hidden under mattress during TelexFree fraud investigation

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Huge stash of money was on its way back to Brazil via Hong Kong, prosecutors say.

Profile: Martin Schulz — From a president to a chancellor?

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Brussels big beast returns home to go up against Merkel

Mosul battle: Children return to schools in recaptured east

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

But deadly battles between the government and IS are still being reported in some eastern districts.

Plan approved for 2,500 new settler homes in West Bank

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Building plan for occupied West Bank came two days after more than 500 settlement homes were approved in East Jerusalem.

EDF fends off pressure to close nuclear plant

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Board agrees deal that will postpone issue until after French presidential election

The Oscar nominations tell a time-old story of Hollywood’s obsession with its own world

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

There is a predictable tendency for Academy voters to favour movies about their kind.

The least surprising Academy Award nominations in recent memory were announced today in Los Angeles. The good news is that the OscarsSoWhite controversy is behind us, at least for this year. What we have in its place is OscarsSoPredictable. In its incestuous, self-regarding way, Hollywood loves Hollywood stories, which is why La La Land has netted so many nominations – 14 in total, equalling the record shared by Titanic and All About Eve – and why it will score big on the night. It’s a diverting but shallow movie, reassuringly uncontroversial, which has coasted to glory on a wave of goodwill that will culminate at the Oscars ceremony.

There were a handful of surprises. A Best Actress nomination for Ruth Negga, for her quiet, understated performance as a black woman imprisoned for marrying a white man in 1950s Virginia in Loving, is very welcome. It is good also to see Mica Levi nominated for her adventurous score for Jackie and Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou in the running for their screenplay for The Lobster.

More controversially, Mel Gibson is a contender for Best Director for his violent war movie Hacksaw Ridge, which indicates that the industry has decided to forgive the drunken antisemitic outbursts, which seemed at one point to have ended his career for good.

But La La Land is up for all the biggies – Best Picture, Best Director (Damian Chazelle), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Actress (Emma Stone), Best Original Screenplay (Chazelle). It could feasibly win them all except for Best Actor. I had hoped that the Best Actress award would go to Natalie Portman, who is brilliant as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie, but a clued-up colleague assured me recently that the La La love is likely to dominate in that category too. Imagine that! All those trophies going to a candyfloss fantasy which tickles the eye but leaves the brain untroubled. La La Land? Looks like more like Cloud-cuckoo-land to me.

Chazelle’s movie isn’t a Best Picture by any stretch of the imagination. But then Best Pictures so rarely are. The King’s Speech instead of The Social Network? My Fair Lady rather than Dr Strangelove? Argo over Amour? Argo over anything, come to that? That film, which won in 2013, was another beneficiary of the tendency for Academy voters to favour movies about their own kind, their own world. Movie-movies. (See also: Birdman, the 2015 winner.) That tendency will give La La Land an extra push.

Its closest competitor, which still isn’t that close, will be Kenneth Lonergan’s intense drama Manchester By the Sea. Casey Affleck has the Best Actor prize sewn up for his brooding, minimalist turn as a grieving handyman saddled with his teenage nephew. It’s a deserving performance and Affleck must already be thinking about where in the house he’s going to put his statuette. At last count, he’d already scooped 16 awards for this film alone. I reckon someone’s going to be putting up a new shelf. A whole den or anteroom may be in order.

Another dead cert is Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress in Fences, directed by her co-star Denzel Washington, which opens in the UK on 10 February.

Mahershala Ali should take the Best Supporting Actor award for playing the drug dealer who becomes a surprisingly tender mentor to a young Miami boy in Moonlight (out here on 17 February). Ali’s chief rival will be Jeff Bridges, who gives one of those grizzled-but-affectionate veteran performances as a good-hearted sheriff in Hell and High Water. Moonlight is to my mind one of the few genuinely great titles vying for Best Picture and would have been my choice by miles – except that I don’t have a vote.

That said, I did have a vote in the London Film Critics’ Circle Awards, which were announced last weekend. We made some choices of which I heartily approve, such as naming I, Daniel Blake Best British/Irish Film and giving the Best Actress award to Isabelle Huppert for Things to Come. She is up for an Oscar in that category for a very different film, Paul Verhoeven’s thriller Elle.

Then again, we also handed our Best Film prize to La La Land. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. Unless you’re La La Land, that is, in which case it’s win-win all the way.

The 89th Academy Awards ceremony will be held on 26 February.

Flickr/BagoGames

South African EFF firebrand dubbed 'little and irrelevant' for Robert-Mugabe 'grandpa' jibe

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

EFF leader Julius Malema told 92-year-old Zimbabwean president: 'Grandpa, it's enough now, let go!'

Russia and Turkey agree to ceasefire in Syria but rebel leaders refuse to deal with Iran

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The opposition clashed with intemediaries over the inclusion of Iran in the talks which it says is a combatant.

Israel approves plans for 2,500 new settlement homes in West Bank

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Israel's prime minister says he is acting "in response to housing needs" in the occupied West Bank.

A Great Place to Have a War

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The definitive account of the secret war in the tiny Southeast Asian nation of Laos, which lasted almost two decades and forever changed the CIA’s controversial role in foreign policy. 

And Then

By Grey Gowrie from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

"in awe and reverence the awful thing: / they find the black box (Guántanamo red) / among gentians"

in awe and reverence the awful thing:
they find the black box (Guántanamo red)
among gentians, blue as Alpes Maritimes’
sea sky blue sou’west of the severed tail
and the fuselage felled from 38000 feet
so they helicopter it from high meadows,
subdued now, lovely with spring flowers,
and set it up in a lab outside Düsseldorf
for replay; and then play it over and over
from tune-up: the first cheerful knocking
by the captain returned from taking a leak
to find the post-Nine Eleven security door
had sealed the cockpit; his slow dawning
what was to happen: the orders, entreaties,
passengers catching on, frenzied pounding
then shouted questions, little hesitant cries
that orchestrate into the awful screaming;
the  screams, screams which they filter out,
lean close to hear the measured breathing
of Andreas Lubitz, in his designer coffin;
steady breathing against filtered screams
and all the instrument warnings going off,
contradicting each other; puzzled queries
from ground control; screams, soft breath
of a lost pilot so they text their colleagues
on the mountain to find him, and they do,
a little way from the others and quite free
of the cockpit, young face all unscathed
beside burst backpacks, scattered clothes
from their bright holidays in Barcelona;
bodies themselves like scattered clothes,
sleeves, scarves, macs, caps and trainers;
not so much blood but fear and gasoline
up on the mountain, in a flowery spring;
so many new, undecided, untested faces
beside empty sleeves of broken bodies
by an uncharred section and then, nearby,
Andreas Lubitz whose lost face they text
to a Rhineland lab for cross-referencing
and it seems staff there begin to wonder
if burned and broken Germanwings 9525
had been inspired by Malaysian Fl. A370
and Captain Zaharie Shah, the innovator,
who dipped wings to see a Penang home
for the last time – did he lock himself in? –
set for Antarctica or the skeltered deeps
of the Southern Indian Ocean, fuel gone;
so one guy, back in the lab, bets another
that Andreas Lubitz compared the poor
five or six minutes of his ingenious hell
to Shah’s five hours, found them wanting,
like his 49 dead to the Malaysian’s 238 –
or did he with glee anticipate Dr Richard
Soderberg of the Svensk transport agency
who said “the privacy of the patient can’t
be traded for aviation safety”, a vile view
endorsed by Lubitz doctors to Lufthansa?
or did Shah, in the name of the Merciful,
on whom all rest, programme oxygen out
for the long glide, the chariot ride of dead? –
so they hit the box again and again wonder
whether that lost pilot, whose wide smile
will flash all over the world in a few days,
saw Earth smile also and rise to meet him
clothed like a Venus in her spring flowers,
and they ask each other if the screams died
before the impact, tremor, echo, the flare,
and with the box intact and all lives ended
and Malaysian Fl. A370 full fathom five,
they stare at transcripts, try to remember
just when the news came through
 

 

May will keep to Brexit timetable despite court ruling

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

EU divorce bill could be accelerated through parliament but opponents plan amendments

Joshua Nott: Rhodes Must Fall activist wins Rhodes scholarship

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Joshua Nott is a former leader of the "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign to topple the magnate's statues.

Donald Trump reportedly to keep James Comey as FBI director

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Comey was criticised for revealing Hillary Clinton was under investigation weeks before presidential election.

United Nations urged to speed up deployment of peacekeeping troops to South Sudan

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

UN expressed fears the African nation "could slip into genocide" similar that of Rwanda in 1994.

A trip through an underwater museum

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Exhibits about climate change and migration are just two of 12 installations in Museo Atlantico, an underwater museum off the coast of Lanzarote.

The Oscar Nominations: La La Land, Moonlight, and Arrival Dominate

By David Sims from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

As largely expected, La La Land dominated Tuesday’s Oscar nominations list, with the gauzy, self-aware throwback musical receiving 14 nods (tying a record held by All About Eve and Titanic) to lead the field in 2016. But the Academy otherwise spread the wealth among a largely worthy set of intimate dramas and critically acclaimed genre films. The list also did a far better job of acknowledging the film industry’s diversity of storytellers and performers than last year’s highly controversial list, which excluded any major actor, director, or writer of color.

The Miami-set coming-of-age drama Moonlight and the emotionally resonant sci-fi drama Arrival netted eight nominations each including Best Picture and Best Director. Mel Gibson’s World War II film Hacksaw Ridge, Kenneth Lonergan’s family drama Manchester by the Sea, and Garth Davis’s true-story travelogue Lion each received six nominations including Best Picture, a list that was rounded out with Theodore Melfi’s NASA biopic Hidden Figures, Denzel Washington’s August Wilson adaptation Fences, and David Mackenzie’s bank-robber thriller Hell or High Water.

This year’s list included seven actors of color, three African American writers (including the late August Wilson, who wrote the screenplay for Fences), and a Best Director nomination for Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), who becomes only the fourth black director nominated in the Oscars’ history after John Singleton, Lee Daniels, and Steve McQueen. After the controversy over last year’s nominees was crystalized in the “#OscarsSoWhite” online protests (the hashtag was started in 2015), the Academy moved to revamp its membership in an initiative spearheaded by its president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

Isaacs introduced this year’s nominees in a live-streamed video presentation along with several former nominees—a jarring departure from the usual tradition of bleary-eyed movie stars announcing the list to a crowd of publicists at five in the morning in Los Angeles. It reflected the Academy’s desire to keep up with social media and pitch its ceremony to a younger, more internet-savvy audience. Jimmy Kimmel will host this year’s ceremony, broadcast on ABC, on February 26.

La La Land, which won seven Golden Globes earlier this month, remains the obvious frontrunner for Best Picture after its 14 nominations. No matter how much the Academy’s membership changes, the Oscars will always be drawn to films about Hollywood, and La La Land is a celebration of the artists and dreamers who descend on Los Angeles to make it big, even if the story ends on a melancholy note. The film’s lead actors Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling made the shortlist, as did its writer-director Damien Chazelle, and the film racked up technical nominations for its aural and visual elements to reach that record-tying number.

Moonlight, a small-budget drama funded by independent studio A24, would not have topped any Oscar pundit’s list a few months ago, considering both its size and its storytelling focus (the early life of a gay black man in Miami). But rapturous critical acclaim and surprising word-of-mouth success propelled it to nominations for its writer-director Barry Jenkins, supporting actors Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, and several technical nods including for cinematography, score, and editing.

In a year largely free of controversy, the biggest complaints will likely be directed at the love for Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s searing war film that dramatizes the battle of Okinawa and the stirring life of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who nonetheless served in the army as a combat medic and won the Medal of Honor for his heroics on the battlefield. Gibson, who won two Oscars in 1996 for Braveheart, seemed permanently exiled from Hollywood after an arrest for drunk driving, accusations of domestic violence, and various incidents of leaked audio that showed him making anti-Semitic, sexist, and racist remarks in private. Hacksaw Ridge received good reviews and made nearly $70 million at the box office, but while Garfield’s Best Actor nomination was assured, Gibson’s Best Director nod was far more surprising.

None of the nominated films was a box-office smash (a whispered groundswell of support for comic-book film Deadpool never materialized), although films like La La Land, Arrival, and Hidden Figures have majorly outdone expectations with audiences. Other bigger hits like Sully were largely ignored. In an era in which Hollywood’s biggest grossers are now almost entirely animated films and superhero sequels, the Oscars are no longer a representation of the year’s biggest hits. Where it used to be commonplace for at least two or three of the year’s Best Picture nominees to have grossed over $100 million, this year’s list has none (so far).  

Among the other, smaller surprises: Ruth Negga made the Best Actress shortlist for Loving ahead of Amy Adams for Arrival, despite the Academy’s overall fondness for the latter movie. 20th Century Women’s Annette Bening was also snubbed from that list in favor of Oscar darling Meryl Streep (who got her 20th nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, while her co-star Hugh Grant was surprisingly snubbed for Best Supporting Actor). Viggo Mortensen got his second nomination for Best Actor in the quirky drama Captain Fantastic over Joel Edgerton for Loving or Tom Hanks for Sully. Michael Shannon got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Nocturnal Animals over his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who (somewhat inexplicably) won the Golden Globe in that category.

Among the first-time nominees were Andrew Garfield, Ruth Negga, Dev Patel (for Lion), Isabelle Huppert (the legendary French actress, shortlisted for Paul Verhoeven’s controversial drama Elle), Lucas Hedges (the young man at the center of Manchester by the Sea), and Moonlight’s Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali. Returning favorites included former winners Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Natalie Portman (Jackie), and Nicole Kidman (Lion), as well as Viola Davis, who is hotly tipped to take the Best Supporting Actress trophy this year for Fences. Two other notable milestone came in Best Film Editing, where Joi McMillon (Moonlight) became the first black woman to be nominated in the category, and in Best Cinematography, where Bradford Young (Arrival) became the first African American nominee (the only previous black nominee, Remi Adefarasin for Elizabeth, was British).

The full list of nominees below:

Best Picture
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge

Best Actor
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Denzel Washington, Fences
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Best Actress
Emma Stone, La La Land
Natalie Portman, Jackie
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Dev Patel, Lion
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Best Adapted Screenplay
Moonlight
Arrival
Fences
Lion
Hidden Figures

Best Original Screenplay
Manchester by the Sea
La La Land
Hell or High Water
The Lobster
20th Century Women

Best Foreign Language Film
Toni Erdmann
The Salesman
Land of Mine
Tanna
A Man Called Ove

Best Documentary Feature
O.J.: Made in America
13th
Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life Animated

Best Animated Feature
Zootopia
Kubo and the Two Strings
The Red Turtle
My Life As a Zucchini
Moana

Best Film Editing
La La Land
Moonlight
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water

Best Original Song
"City of Stars," La La Land
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)," La La Land
"How Far I'll Go," Moana
"Can't Stop the Feeling," Trolls
“The Empty Chair,” The James Foley Story

Best Original Score
La La Land
Lion
Jackie
Moonlight
Passengers

Best Cinematography
La La Land
Moonlight
Arrival
Silence
Lion

Best Costume Design
Florence Foster Jenkins
La La Land
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Allied
Jackie

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Star Trek Beyond
A Man Called Ove
Suicide Squad

Best Production Design
La La Land
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hail, Caesar!
Arrival
Passengers

Sound Editing
Hacksaw Ridge
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
La La Land
Sully

Sound Mixing
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Arrival
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Visual Effects
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Kubo and the Two Strings
Doctor Strange
Deepwater Horizon

Best Short Film, Live Action
Timecode
Silent Nights
La Femme et le TGV
Ennemis Interieurs
Sing

Best Short Film, Animated
Piper
Pearl
Borrowed Time
Blind Vaysha
Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Best Documentary, Short Subject
Joe’s Violin
The White Helmets
Extremis
Watani: My Homeland
4.1 Miles

SRSLY #78: Jackie / Apple Tree Yard / Silicon Valley

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: Jackie, the Jackie Kennedy biopic, sexy BBC thriller Apple Tree Yard and HBO tech nerd sitcom Silicon Valley.

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

Jackie

The film's trailer.

Hazel Cills at MTV on the soundtrack.

Stream the soundtrack here.

Apple Tree Yard

The trailer.

Anna's piece on the show.

Silicon Valley

The best of Jared.

For next time:

Caroline is reading Fen by Daisy Johnson.

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 #77, check it out here.

May must get parliamentary approval to initiate Brexit

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Supreme Court rules the prime minister must seek approval from parliament before initiating negotiations to leave EU.

Trump expected to sign executive orders advancing controversial Keystone and North Dakota pipelines

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry on board of company building North Dakotapipeline – Trump owns shares in it.

Afghanistan women's orchestra closes global forum

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The Zohra Afghan women's orchestra teaching music - once banned under the Taliban - to girls.

NewsGrid - Al Jazeera's interactive news hour

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

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

Mexican authorities arrest son of cartel chief 'El Azul'

From IBTimes.co.uk : World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Arrest comes as authorities pursue senior leaders of brutal drugs gang.

Six killed in Italy as rescue helicopter crashes

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The helicopter had just picked up an injured skier from a resort in central Italy when it went down.

Kurlantzick Chronicles the U.S. Secret War in Laos and Creation of a Paramilitary CIA in New Book

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

“Over the course of the war, U.S. bombing of Laos would become so intense that it averaged one attack every eight minutes for nearly a decade,” observes Joshua Kurlantzick in his new book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA. Kurlantzick, a Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia, mines extensive interviews and recently declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) records to give a definitive account of the secret war in the tiny Southeast Asian nation of Laos, which lasted from 1961 to 1973, and was the largest covert operation in U.S. history. The conflict forever changed the CIA from a relatively small spying agency into an organization with vast paramilitary powers.

Sexual assault in the time of Trump

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Eight years of progress and funding for programmes countering sexual violence against women are about to be undone.

'Gambian anthem': Red Card for Jammeh

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

How Red Card by Silky Criss became the anthem of The Gambia's recent political crisis.

An alternative Trainspotting script for John Humphrys’ Radio 4 “Choose Life” tribute

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Born chippy.

Your mole often has Radio 4’s Today programme babbling away comfortingly in the background while emerging blinking from the burrow. So imagine its horror this morning, when the BBC decided to sully this listening experience with John Humphrys doing the “Choose Life” monologue from Trainspotting.

“I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Radio 4?” he concluded, as a nation cringed.

Introduced as someone who has “taken issue with modernity”, Humphrys launched into the film character Renton’s iconic rant against the banality of modern life.

But Humphrys’ role as in-studio curmudgeon is neither endearing nor amusing to this mole. Often tasked with stories about modern technology and digital culture by supposedly mischievous editors, Humphrys sounds increasingly cranky and ill-informed. It doesn’t exactly make for enlightening interviews. So your mole has tampered with the script. Here’s what he should have said:

“Choose life. Choose a job and then never retire, ever. Choose a career defined by growling and scoffing. Choose crashing the pips three mornings out of five. Choose a fucking long contract. Choose interrupting your co-hosts, politicians, religious leaders and children. Choose sitting across the desk from Justin Webb at 7.20 wondering what you’re doing with your life. Choose confusion about why Thought for the Day is still a thing. Choose hogging political interviews. Choose anxiety about whether Jim Naughtie’s departure means there’s dwindling demand for grouchy old men on flagship political radio shows. Choose a staunch commitment to misunderstanding stories about video games and emoji. Choose doing those stories anyway. Choose turning on the radio and wondering why the fuck you aren’t on on a Sunday morning as well. Choose sitting on that black leather chair hosting mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows (Mastermind). Choose going over time at the end of it all, pishing your last few seconds on needlessly combative questions, nothing more than an obstacle to that day’s editors being credited. Choose your future. Choose life . . .”

Getty

Russia, Turkey, Iran agree plan to support Syria truce

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The three nations also said they supported the willingness of the armed opposition to participate in UN-led talks.

Take the US president’s protectionism seriously

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Do not assume Donald Trump is bluffing in order to win better deals

Turkey holds repo rate but lifts overnight rate

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Surprise move sends lira tumbling more than 1% against dollar

Astana joint statement by Iran, Russia, Turkey: in full

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

RRDP: Women fear violence and rape in refugee camps

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Study casts light on conditions women endure in refugee camps as they attempt to reach northern Europe.

Under Trump, American democracy will change – with the whole world at stake

By Sasha Abramsky from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

We know that powerful countries don’t work well when nuance is cast overboard. Is this the collapse of the pluralist order?

In the weeks since 8 November, when Donald Trump won a majority of the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by three million, the culture of informed, participatory, representative democracy has taken one hit after another.

Before our eyes, the American republic, that most durable of representative democratic experiments, is morphing into something unrecognisable. At the federal level, the mediating, moderating institutions are withering away, leaving an abyss in the centre of US politics that Trump threatens to fill with a toxic appeal to race and religion baiting. Day after day, one reads reports of hate crimes and a surge in incivility – of Muslim women attacked in the streets, of swastikas painted on buildings, of Latino kids in schools being taunted about the wall that Trump has promised to build on the Mexican border. The Ku Klux Klan has rallied in several cities. “Alt-right” groups – some of which share members with neo-Nazi organisations – have held triumphalist events in Washington, DC.

Through it all, Trump has spent his time not trying to show that he will be a unifying president, not condemning this wave of violence, but instead holding his own rolling series of triumphalist rallies designed to shore up his personality cult.

Trump is only nominally a Grand Old Party Republican. His power derives not from understanding the ins and outs of party politics, playing by the long-established rules of a two-party system, nor from having studied the workings of the constitution, nor from any specialised legal or diplomatic knowledge. Rather, it stems from direct appeals to “the people”. Though a billionaire, Trump has fashioned himself as a far-right populist, a leader who speaks to the sensibilities of the mob with no time or patience for nuance.

He has enthusiastically endorsed “the torture” against terrorism suspects; collective punishment and executions; religious tests of entry for would-be immigrants; registries of Muslims; the jailing of his political opponents; clampdowns on free speech and on the functioning of investigative media outlets; stop-and-frisk policing strategies against minorities; wholesale deportation policies; and many other noxious ideas. He has deliberately coarsened America’s political language – systematically humiliating opponents and bringing his crowds down with him into the political sewers in which he thrives. His project is that of the classic totalitarian: make everyone and every major institution of state so grubby, so complicit, that, over time, they come to feel that they have no choice but to collaborate with an agenda of oppression.

We know that powerful countries don’t work well when nuance is cast overboard. Totalitarian projects garner support until they throw entire populations into disaster – into economic calamity, into spiralling conflicts and wars, into civil strife. Trump, as he makes policy on the hoof and hires a cabinet that seems to be made up of equal parts fanatics, conspiracy theorists, incompetents and generals, shows no sign of understanding this. He is a leader without internal limits.

Using his Twitter platform, in particular, Trump spent the weeks between election day and his inauguration wielding a wrecking ball against everything from environmental policy to gender equality regulations; from the “one China” policy carefully respected by leaders of both parties for more than 40 years to policies against expanded Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Three days before Christmas, he suggested that the US would be expanding its nuclear arsenal under his leadership.

This isn’t just dangerous; it’s beyond idiotic – a man who will soon wield unholy power over the lives of everyone on this planet intervening in the most delicate of policy areas with the bluntest of cudgels. The idea of making nuclear policy through 140-character tweets is insane, the stuff of bad late-night comedy rather than serious international diplomacy. And yet, intellectually, this is where America’s incoming leadership now resides.

Trump’s actions over these past weeks indicate that he is a person of staggering hubris, of thoughtlessness, of impulsiveness – and that, as he presented himself time and again during the election season, he is a boy-man, with the sensibilities of a teenager rather than a mature adult. He comes across as someone megalomaniacally confident that he can think and do no wrong; who wants to listen only to sycophants; and who is convinced that his brand of instinctual politics (the kind that has no need for dreary, real-world interventions such as daily security briefings) will triumph over all.

On the night of the election, the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, wrote an impassioned essay about what he identified as an “American tragedy”. But this doesn’t do full justice to the catastrophe that Trump’s election represents. His is a triumph of the will, as surely as was Hitler’s rise to power in 1932-33. He has ridden and will continue to try to ride roughshod over his opponents – both within the craven GOP, which has sacrificed all semblance of democratic credibility in pursuit of power, and in the Democratic Party and beyond.

Because he enters the White House as a conqueror rather than a product of years of politicking within the existing governing structures, he knows that he can appeal to “the people” – not all of the people but those white, conservative, mainly rural and suburban residents who make up the core of his support – to get his way.

Will Trump succeed in this mad re-imagining of what the United States is? There will be large opposition – on the streets, on university campuses, in the courts and in the state houses of liberal states up and down both coasts. In wealthy and large states such as California, where the cities, state legislatures and the governor’s offices are united in opposition to huge parts of Trump’s agenda, it is likely that on a day-to-day basis residents will avoid the brunt of the impact.

It is entirely possible that there will be a flowering of radical politics in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York and Boston, as well as inward migration from the heartlands of large numbers of political progressives and members of racial and religious minorities. Yet in more conservative parts of the country – in Texas, say, or Oklahoma, Mississippi or Alabama, or a host of other states dominated by reactionary political leaders – life for immigrants, the working poor, single mothers and Muslims (just to take a few examples) will become harsher. In many states, it is not at all clear that the political leadership will be willing or able to stand up to Trump’s mob.

It’s also far from certain that local police forces or county sheriffs will be able, or even particularly inclined, to stop the unleashing of pogroms. After all, these are places where law enforcement long turned a blind eye to lynch mobs directed against black residents and black-run businesses. It is not such a stretch to imagine a similar passivity in the face of anti-Muslim or anti-Mexican violence today.

Nor, on the international stage, is it likely that this troupe of political novices will be able to control the forces of resentment they are unleashing. Trump’s cabinet is full of Islamophobes who believe that the entire Muslim world is now America’s enemy. It is dominated by China-haters and climate change deniers. By the time Trump assumes the presidency, he will have done an almighty job of pissing off swaths of the world’s population.

The optimistic scenario is that the world turns its back on an inward-looking America, getting on with the serious business of international affairs while the pre-eminent superpower throws a four-to-eight-year tantrum. It is more likely, however, that there will be a scramble for influence as US soft power wanes and other powerful countries and non-state organisations seek to fill a vacuum created by the dearth of sensible American voices and policies. Such players could range from economic powerhouses such as China and Germany, seeking, or being forced to accept, a bigger military and geopolitical role, to resurgent powers such as Russia – as well as non-state actors ranging from terrorist entities such as Isis to techno-anarchist groups such as WikiLeaks.

As America’s image mutates, they will have a growing opportunity either to sow instability or to reshape regions of the world in their own image. The nightmare scenario is that Trump, relying on his instincts in place of the counsel of experts, seeks to shore up America’s declining influence through spasmodic demonstrations of military power – bullying and threatening one country after another, much as fascist regimes did in the 1930s. The consequences could be disastrous: US nationalism unleashed could plunge the world into conflict.

Thus we hover on the edge of a catastrophe: a great democracy that has come to be controlled by demagogues, ready to pounce at the slightest provocation, itching for an excuse to implement emergency measures against Muslims and others, convinced that its military might will cow the rest of the world into toeing the Trumpian line.

Sasha Abramsky writes for the Nation magazine and is the author of “The American Way of Poverty” (Nation Books)

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On Monsanto and the First Amendment

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Reflections on a trial by a professional protester.

Model Hanne Gaby Odiele reveals she is intersex to 'break taboo'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Hanne Gaby Odiele reveals she was born with undescended testicles, saying it is "not a big deal".

Piers Morgan struggles with the idea that anyone might ever refuse an opportunity to go on television

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The Good Morning Britain host has contradictory beef with Ewan McGregor.

Has it been a while since you heard what Piers Morgan thinks? Are you shaking from withdrawal, refreshing your Twitter feed, unsure whether Kanye is or isn’t a narcissist? Well, fear not, the Mole has a fresh fix for you. After Ewan McGregor dropped out of appearing on Good Morning Britain today, a new take was born. Actors’ opinions are stupid, but also, actors should come on Piers Morgan's show and talk about their not-important views.

McGregor, who was meant to be promoting Trainspotting T2 on the show, tweeted this morning he had cancelled because of Piers’ (obviously half-baked) opinions on the Women’s March. “Was going on Good Morning Britain, didn't realise @piersmorgan was host,” McGregor wrote. “Won't go on with him after his comments about #WomensMarch.”

What truthbomb had Piers dropped to provoke this? That it was unfair women were protesting and where was the MEN'S march. A march for men! As if running our parliament, corporate system, legal industry and creative sector isn’t enough! They should probably all do a walk too! Poor men. No wonder the patriarchy is on its last legs. They must be so weary.

Still, hats off to Piers Morgan. It takes a real personal flexibility to maintain the title of Contrarian Extraordinaire of the Our Glorious Nation. By which we mean that Piers Morgan will think literally anything, if the money is right. Whether it’s writing that Kim Kardashian is so awful she caused someone to have a stroke, or that he loves her for being herself, the man is so darn unpredictable. 

Morgan accused McGregor of being "just an actor", and that he should be “big enough to allow people different political opinions”. Once again, he asked the age-old question: are you an enemy of free speech if you won't go on someone’s early morning television show? This might be alien to Piers, but people don't have to go on television if they don't want to. 

And what if Ewan had appeared on the show chatting about his film? “Happy to appear on my show for your film, but not happy with my opinions? Classic money-driven actor,” the inevitable Morgan tweet would have read. It's quite easy, this Piers Morgan lark. No, it isn't. Yes it is. Cheque please! 

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UK Supreme Court rules MPs must vote on triggering Brexit

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Judges say parliament must be consulted before Article 50 can be activated to leave EU

Last-ditch effort to save rare Australian parrot

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Fostering trial hopes to boost tiny wild population of Australia's orange-bellied parrots.

How Ultrasound Became Political

By Moira Weigel from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

One of the first measures that Republicans in the 115th Congress proposed was the “Heartbeat Protection Act.” On January 11, a group led by Steve King of Iowa introduced a bill that would require doctors nationwide to “check for a fetal heartbeat” before performing an abortion, and prohibit them from completing the procedure if they found one. In December, Republicans in the Ohio state legislature put forth a similar measure. Governor John Kasich vetoed it, observing that such a law would almost certainly be struck down as unconstitutional, but approved a 20-week abortion ban.

Opponents of the heartbeat bills have pointed out that they would eliminate abortion rights almost entirely—making the procedure illegal around four weeks after fertilization, before many women realize that they are pregnant. These measures raise even more elementary questions: What is a fetal heartbeat? And why does it matter?

The idea would have been unthinkable before the advent of a technology developed in 1976: real-time ultrasound. At six weeks, the “heartbeat” is not audible; it is visible, a flickering that takes place between 120 and 160 times per minute on a black-and-white playback screen. As cardiac cells develop, they begin to send electrical pulses that cause their neighbors to contract. Scientists can observe the same effect if they culture cells in a petri dish.

Doctors do not even call this rapidly dividing cell mass a “fetus” until nine weeks into pregnancy.* Yet, the current debate shows how effectively politicians have used visual technology to redefine what counts as “life.”

Since the mid-1990s, opponents of abortion have deployed ultrasound in their attempts to restrict abortion access. Five states have enacted “informed consent” laws, which require doctors to show their patients ultrasound images, and in some cases to describe the images, before performing an abortion. Two of those laws have been struck down by state courts. Twenty other states require a doctor to at least offer to show a woman seeking an abortion ultrasound.

These measures are based on two assumptions: First, that an ultrasound image has an obvious meaning. Second, that any pregnant woman who sees an ultrasound will recognize this meaning. Science does not bear either assumption out.

* * *

The origins of fetal ultrasound lie in stealth warfare. Ultrasound technology was first developed to scan vast spaces, rather than telescope in on infinitesimal cell masses. In the 1880s, the French scientists Pierre and Jacques Curie discovered that they could produce sound waves with frequencies of millions of cycles per second by applying electricity to quartz crystals. Following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, several scientists and mathematicians experimented with these “ultrasound” signals to determine the presence of icebergs underwater.

However, the real push came during World War I, when German submarines blockaded the Atlantic. The French, British, and American navies rushed to develop devices that could surveil U-Boats. The first known sinking of a submarine detected by hydrophone took place in the Atlantic in April 1916. During World War II, the Allied forces continued to dump resources into improving sonar capabilities.

After the war, army trained scientists and army funded laboratories demobilized the technology, turning away from the ocean, toward women’s bodies. In the early 1960s, doctors in Europe, Japan, and in the United States simultaneously developed and promoted the widespread use of ultrasound in clinical settings. The First International Conference on Diagnostic Ultrasound took place in Pittsburgh in 1965. That same year, fetal images began to spread across popular culture.

In January, Life magazine published a feature entitled “A Sonar ‘Look’ at an Unborn Baby.” It centered on a photograph of a woman, lying beneath the “water-sac” ultrasound scanning device, and a photograph of the screen showing her reading. The caption tells readers that the black-and-white solar flare appearing on the screen is in fact the fetal skull. “The astonishing medical machine resting on this pregnant woman’s abdomen in a Philadelphia hospital is ‘looking’ at her unborn child in precisely the same way a Navy surface ship homes in on enemy submarines,” the text reads.

On April 30, 1965, Life published another cover story that would become iconic: “The Drama of Life Before Birth” presented a series of dramatic color photographs by the Swedish photojournalist, Lennart Nilsson. Annotations detailed the developmental stages of an embryo from fertilization to 28 weeks. One page showed a fetus enclosed, forehead straining against the amniotic sac; another, showed a fetus suspended in a dark void surrounded by pinpoints of light resembling stars. Nilsson called it “spaceman embryo.” The following year, Nilsson published a book on embryology for expecting couples, A Child Is Born. It quickly became an international bestseller.

These images produced a new and unprecedented vision of human development. Before ultrasound, medical care received by pregnant women had depended on their testimony, or how they described their own sensations. Ultrasound made it possible for the male doctor to evaluate the fetus without female interference. Ultrasound images carried the associations of objectivity typically accorded to the camera, and they conferred authority on the doctor who interpreted their contents. They seemed to give him immediate access to the tiny human floating inside his patient’s body. Of course, ultrasound technology has been a crucial component of prenatal care, too. Imagery obtained through ultrasound can alert doctors to potentially serious problems in a pregnancy—such as placental issues or congenital defects in the fetus.

Later, Nilsson admitted that he staged his photographs using aborted material; this was how he had been able to manipulate the position and lighting of the embryos to such dramatic effect. But the image of the fetus as a tiny “spaceman” remained lodged in the popular consciousness.  Stanley Kubrick helped make it iconic with his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which concludes with a sequence featuring a “Star Child” floating through space, a direct citation of Nilsson’s photographs.

Critics have offered varying interpretations of the sequence. It is an allegory about how technology will destroy the human race; it is an allegory about how we will be reborn through technology. What was clear, as the Star Child floated in its tiny, incandescent amniotic sac, was the suggestion that he floated in a void. The framing of the ultrasound image was notable for what it excluded: the woman. In order to make the fetus visible, it made her disappear.

* * *

Real-time ultrasound became a standard part of prenatal treatment in the early 1980s. Almost as soon as it did, opponents of abortion enlisted it in their cause. It became an article of faith that women would respond to seeing ultrasound images by “recognizing” that the fetus gestating inside them was a “baby”—and, by extension, that abortion would be murder.

In 1983, the doctors John C. Fletcher and Mark I. Evans published an article in The New England Journal of Medicine on “Maternal Bonding in Early Fetal Ultrasound Examinations.” Fletcher and Evans recounted the stories of several women who decided to forego abortions after having ultrasounds. One, who had been beaten by her partner, and then discovered during her medical examination that she was pregnant, was shown an ultrasound and asked how she felt. She told the researchers, “It certainly makes you think twice about abortion! I feel that it is human. It belongs to me. I couldn’t have an abortion now.” In a second case, an expecting mother decided to carry her pregnancy to term, even though, the fetus was suffering from severe hormonal problems: “I am going all the way with this baby. I believe that it is human.”

The authors concluded that earlier viewing of ultrasound would lead women to “experience a shock of recognition that the fetus belongs to them.” Bernard Nathanson decided that exposure to ultrasound could help the entire American public undergo a similar conversion process. Nathanson was an improbable character: a doctor who had performed, he said, “thousands” of abortions and helped found NARAL (the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), before becoming a born again Christian, and the head of the National Right-to-Life Committee. In 1985, he made a half-hour documentary that purported to use real time ultrasound to show an abortion as it took place: The Silent Scream.

The inspiration for the film came from a contretemps between Ronald Reagan and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In January 1984, President Reagan had publicly stated that the fetus “suffers long and agonizing pain during an abortion,” and the medical organization had issued a statement clarifying that this was impossible: a fetus did not develop the neurological pathways necessary to experience pain until the third trimester. Nathanson signed a counterstatement, and vowed to settle the matter by “photographing” an abortion.

The Silent Scream is framed in a way intended to stress its medical and scientific credibility. (“If anyone ever looked the part of the doctor, it is Bernard N. Nathanson,” one Los Angeles Times piece on the film began.) In the opening shots, a voice-over announces that, “all the material in this film is authentic.” Nathanson speaks as if he speaks for the entire medical profession, saying that ultrasound images “have convinced us”— doctors—“beyond question that the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community indistinguishable from you or me.”

The centerpiece of The Silent Scream is a bizarre scene, in which Nathanson sits in a living room in front of a television on which what appears to be a real time ultrasound image is playing. A model of a fetus lies, face down, on the ottoman at his knee. Ignoring the doll, Nathanson describes what is happening, constantly referring to the fetus on screen as “the child.”

“The child is serene in its sanctuary.”

“The child is now moving in a much more personal manner … it is rearing … the child is extremely agitated and moving in a violent manner … The child’s mouth is open, screaming.”

“This is the child’s mouth open, in the silent scream of a child threatened imminently with extinction.”

Nathanson narrates as if these events are taking place in real time. However, the ultrasound had been edited and sped up to make it appear as if the fetus were moving in response to the medical instruments, even though, as many doctors stressed, a fetus had no such reflexes at only twelve weeks.

As the ultrasound stills, the soundtrack shifts to funereal organ music. “There was once a living, defenseless, tiny human being here.”

Many doctors decried The Silent Scream. But it was screened repeatedly on national television. After premiering on Jerry Falwell’s televangelism show, it aired five times within its first month on major networks. Throughout the 1980s, abortion opponents continued to use Nathanson’s language and imagery to redefine fetuses as persons as part of a campaign to pass state measures that criminalized abortion. In 1986, the year after The Silent Scream debuted, Minnesota passed a “fetal homicide law”; today 38 states have similar statutes.

In 1991, the feminist writer Susan Bordo would observe that ultrasound images had played a key role in reducing the status of mothers to “fetal incubators.” She quoted the pro-life doctor Michael Harrison.

“The fetus could not be taken seriously as long as he remained a medical recluse in an opaque womb; and it was not until the last half of this century that the prying eye of the ultrasonogram rendered the once opaque womb transparent, stripping the veil of mystery from the dark inner sanctum, and letting the light of scientific observation fall on the shy and secretive fetus…”

* * *

Today, the kinds of photographs that stunned the readers of Life in 1966 have become commonplace. Every rom-com involving an unplanned pregnancy—from Knocked Up and Juno to Bridget Jones’s Baby—seems to include an obligatory scene in which the reluctant mother is shown an ultrasound and decides to keep her child. Celebrity ultrasounds have become their own subgenre of tabloid “baby bump” stories.

In many ways, social media have heightened the social reality of the unborn. Expecting parents post ultrasound photos on Facebook and Instagram; they go to “Keepsake Ultrasound” chains in order to buy DVDs of 3-D and 4-D images; which in turn sustain an entire cottage industry on Etsy. Last year, an American couple posted a video of their sonogram fast-forwarded so that their fetus appeared to be clapping in time as they sang, “When You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands.” The Internet debated whether or not the video was “a hoax.” That is, they debated whether in fact this fetus understood the lyrics of a song and responded to them on cue. Were they serious? The fantasy clearly appealed: The post was viewed on YouTube nearly 12 million times. Yet it remains unclear what the popular enthusiasm for fetal images actually means.

New “informed consent” laws and the Congressional “heartbeat bill” follow the same logic that The Silent Scream did. Their sponsors act as if ultrasound images “prove” that a fetus is equivalent to a “baby,” and that pregnant women only have to be shown ultrasound images in order to draw the same conclusion. But the “heartbeat” made visible via ultrasound does not actually demonstrate any decisive change of state in the cell mass that might become a fetus.

Diane Horvath Cosper, an OB-GYN who works for Physicians for Reproductive Health in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. points out that, as a benchmark, the heartbeat is “kind of arbitrary.” “Two days before we couldn’t see the activity,” Cosper says, “but the cells were there, and they already had that contractile activity.” What the appearance of the flicker on the ultrasound shows is not a change of state but a threshold of the imaging technology.  

In July 2015, the Centers for Disease Control released a report indicating that women were having abortions at far lower rates than they had in the 1980s and 1990s. Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, credited ultrasound with the drop. “There’s an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture,” Yoest told the Associated Press. “There’s an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born.” But there is no evidence that pregnant women react to ultrasound images in the way that Yoest suggested.

Indeed, the evidence suggests the opposite. Economists have argued that the falling abortion rates—now at their lowest level since 1971—track the falling birth rate in general. Research shows that different women react differently to ultrasound images depending on their attitudes toward their pregnancy. While older mothers, and women who have struggled to conceive often express great joy, women who do not desire a child often remain indifferent. A 2014 study published by the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, which drew on the medical records of nearly 16,000 women seeking abortions, found that viewing an ultrasound had a negligible impact on whether they decided to proceed.

These findings are not surprising. After all, nearly 60 percent of abortions are obtained by women who already have at least one child; these women know what pregnancy means. For them, “informed consent” laws add insult to inconvenience, slowing down their access to care while belittling their ability to make decisions about their own bodies. But pregnant women aren't the only audience for forced ultrasounds. Like many other uses of this technology across history, The Heartbeat Protection Act enlarge the fetus in the public eye, while edging women out of the picture.  


* This article originally stated that there is "no heart to speak of" in a six-week-old fetus. By that point in a pregnancy, a heart has already begun to form. We regret the error.

Brexit and parliament: A court ruling on Article 50 hints at Britain’s coming constitutional storm

By from European Union. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Main image:  ON THE morning of January 24th the Supreme Court ruled that Britain’s government has to put Article 50 (the formal two-year process by which Britain will leave the European Union) to a vote in parliament. It should never have come to this. Last summer Brexiteers won the EU referendum by pledging to return sovereignty to Westminster. It was shabby of Theresa May to try to bypass legislators—and a strategic misjudgment to waste time by appealing December’s ruling by the High Court, which the Supreme Court has now straightforwardly upheld.Some detect an establishment stitch-up: Iain Duncan Smith accuses the judges of telling parliament what it should do. On this (like so much else) the welfare secretary is wrong. Sensible Brexiteers are tellingly welcoming the judgment, the essence of which is that the executive’s “royal prerogative” does not empower it to overrule the 1972 act taking Britain into the EU. The result is a victory for parliamentary democracy and a credit to Gina Miller (pictured above), the businesswoman who bravely brought the case in the first place (she has been showered with death threats for her troubles).The ruling is unlikely to prevent Mrs May from triggering Article 50 by her self-imposed deadline: the end of March. She is expected to put a narrow, single-clause (and ...

How Trump's Speech to the CIA Endangered America

By Conor Friedersdorf from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Every American, regardless of who they voted for in the election, should be furious with President Donald Trump for what he told the CIA during a recent meeting at its headquarters. I do not mean his digressions about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and the number of times he has appeared on the cover of Time magazine, although it does not inspire confidence to see the president waste fleeting time with national-security employees on his vanity rather than our security.

It’s his comments on Iraq that ought to make Americans apoplectic, for in the space of seconds, Trump managed to utter words that are 1) morally repugnant, 2) certain to be exploited as a recruiting tool by America’s terrorist enemies, and 3) likely to help foreign adversaries diminish America’s reputation and power. For the sake of an indisciplined, self-indulgent riff, Trump made Americans less safe.

Here are his words:

The old expression, ‘To the victor belong the spoils’––you remember I always used to say, ‘Keep the oil.’ I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I don’t want to go into Iraq. But I will tell you, when we were in we got out wrong. And I always said in addition to that, ‘Keep the oil.’ Now, I said it for economic reasons. But if you think about it, Mike, if you kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place. So we should have kept the oil, okay? Maybe you’ll have another chance.

When Trump made statements like this as a private citizen they could be safely ignored. Now that he is president they have immediate, global consequences. They reached, for example, a 27-year-old Iraqi who is fighting ISIS. Here is how he responded: “I participated in the attack against the Americans by attacking them with mortars and roadside bombs, and I’m ready to do it again,” he told war correspondent Borzou Daragahi. “We kept our ammunition and weapons from the time the Americans left for fighting ISIS. But once ISIS is gone we will save our weapons for the Americans.” Is America well served by a president who needlessly evokes that reaction?

Trump’s remark that “maybe you’ll have another chance” to seize Iraq’s oil surely reached young Americans pondering whether to enlist or re-enlist in the armed forces. They understand what a dismayed Bruce Riedel explained about Trump’s words:

Trump never says what “taking the oil” of Iraq really means: an endless occupation army in the Persian Gulf surrounded by enemies, without allies, and isolated hopelessly from the Islamic world. It would have to be an open-ended occupation, which would polarize America more than ever. It would reinvigorate the global jihad, and it would disgrace our fundamental values as a nation.

In fact, as James S. Robbins noted at National Review in 2005, Al Qaeda was trying to figure out how to bait the United States into sending soldiers to Iraq’s oil fields. As a jihadist magazine put it, “The U.S. will reach a stage of madness after the targeting of its oil interests, which will facilitate the creation of a new front and the drowning of the U.S. in a new quagmire that will be worse than the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Trump’s statement ought to make conservatives and Republicans particularly uncomfortable. It isn’t so long ago that many of them regarded “No Blood For Oil” as a deluded leftist slogan at best and an anti-American slur at worst. “In our petroleum-paranoid world, ‘No Blood For Oil’ was the common smear against removing oil-rich Saddam Hussein,” Victor Davis Hanson declared in a 2006 essay.

Hanson is now a Trump supporter.

In 2011, Rush Limbaugh, another Trump supporter, mocked Hillary Clinton when she gave public assurances that the United States was not invading Libya to seize its oil.

He felt that went without saying.

“I thought with Obama all that stuff about the American people being evil and greedy and stealing all of the world’s resources, I thought that all was gonna come to a screeching halt? Obama’s been around apologizing for all that, I thought with Obama as head of the regime the world was gonna stop thinking about us this way,” Limbaugh said. “But yet we’ve got the wacko websites like MoveOn.org and who the heck knows whoever else claiming that we’re going into Libya for the oil, and so Mrs. Clinton, (paraphrasing) ‘We don’t want these people to be right.’ (interruption) Well, I know, the Marines were in Tripoli and left. Is it reassuring, ladies and gentlemen, to know that our country’s foreign policy is in the hands of people who post comments at the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post? Because that’s essentially what’s happening. The lunatics that populate those websites, it’s their policies, their beliefs that are running American foreign policy. I mean that’s where you hear this claptrap about stealing the world’s oil. I guess that’s so much better than having foreign policy decisions made by some arrogant cowboy like George W. Bush.”

In fact, back in 2011, it wasn’t just “lunatics” at the Huffington Post or Daily Kos talking about America’s interest in Libyan oil. Trump was openly urging the Obama Administration to take Libya’s oil! Most Trump supporters I interviewed during the campaign, having heard him rail against the Iraq War, were totally unaware that he even made a YouTube video urging the Obama administration to send U.S. troops to Libya:

As I reported back in September, there have been many times over the years when Trump was more hawkish and interventionist than the Washington, D.C. establishment.

But urging a humanitarian intervention in Libya, as foolish as ensuing events made that seem, isn’t nearly so depraved and strategically bankrupt as urging the American military to steal foreign oil by force. Politifact conveyed this well last year:

...the United States does not have enough troops to protect all of Iraq’s oil fields from ISIS militants, let alone securing transportation routes and pipelines for export. "It would take a permanent, massive presence to protect a static target from the tanks and heavy weaponry of an enemy with all the time in the world," Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said.

Military historian Lance Janda foresaw even more trouble: "It would draw endless numbers of enemies to attack us in the Middle East and draw us into a long-term ground war, which is precisely what Trump has said he wants to avoid.”

These weren’t outlying critics. They represented a near-consensus:

When we floated Trump’s idea with a half-dozen foreign policy experts, we encountered wider and deeper revulsion than just about any topic we’ve ever asked about. “I wish I could tell you all the ways it would be illegal and not kosher,” said Steven R. Ratner, a University of Michigan law professor.

Trump’s idea is "so out of step with any plausible interpretation of U.S. history or international law that they should be dismissed out of hand by anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of world affairs," said Janda. "Insofar as Mr. Trump's proposals are coherent enough to be subject to analysis and judgment, they appear to be practically impossible, legally prohibited, and politically imbecilic," said Barnett Rubin, associate director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.

This is the idea that Trump chose to raise in a televised address to the CIA, the part of the U.S. government that inspires the most distrust and paranoia around the world. He could’ve talked about anything under the sun, and he chose to return to his inane, ignorant hobbyhorse about how we should steal Iraq’s oil—an agenda he perhaps doesn’t even intend to pursue, in which case America took the security and P.R. hit for naught.

Can Trump get it together to govern with even a modicum of competence?

So far this is what amateur hour looks like when it is voted into the White House on the strength of celebrity, bluster, and an opponent with decades of poor decisions and corruption as baggage.

Trump doesn’t appear to recognize his needless, totally avoidable error. America would benefit if the people around him demanded more discipline and told their erratic boss to stop shooting off his mouth. Its safety hangs in the balance.

Scapegoating foreign aid

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

British foreign aid is not to blame for poverty and failed social services in the UK.

Western Sahara: Forty years in a refugee camp

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Thousands of Sahrawis, natives of Western Sahara, have been living in refugee camps in Algeria for some 40 years. As the political deadlock continues, they face a cut in aid.

I represent a Leave constituency - but I want to delay triggering Brexit

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Unlike most of his colleagues, Labour MP Paul Farrelly refused to vote for starting Brexit negotiations in March. He explains why. 

Not quite top marks, but eight out of 11 will do - for the justices on the United Kingdom Supreme Court, who have ruled that our country remains, indeed, a parliamentary democracy. 

Furthermore, they have ruled that legislation is necessary to trigger Article 50, which starts the Brexit process, not simply a plebiscite, nor a government diktat fancifully dressed up as a "royal prerogative".

Last June, my constituency of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the area home to the historic potteries industry voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent to leave the European Union. Yet in December, I was one of just nine Labour MPs to vote - twice - against rushing for the door by the end of March, come what may.

It was the third time since 2015 that I’d defied the Labour whip (quite modest compared with our leader’s record). The last was when - with the Tories’ true statesman, Ken Clarke - I refused to vote for the legislation paving the way for the referendum in the first place. 

I thought it a reckless gamble with our country’s future, which profoundly disregarded the lessons of the past. Six months down the line, I now realise that, of the "December nine", I was the only one with a Leave majority (though not a majority of all voters) in my seat.

Why? Was it a political death wish? A deliberate slap in the face for my electorate, who have returned a Labour MP now since 1919?

No, it simply made no coherent sense to hand the government a blank cheque before Christmas, before we'd seen what Prime Minister Theresa May wanted to achieve, and given our verdict in the national interest. 

Does that make me – like the judges again, no doubt, according to Ukip, some Tories and the Brexit press - an "enemy of the people"? Certainly not. 

My parliamentary next door neighbour Sir Bill Cash, doyen of the anti-EU lobby, has spent the last 40 years defying the "will of the people" from the overwhelming 1970s referendum. So I think we "rebels" can be cut a little slack for wanting to ask a few hard questions to hold the government to account.

On the face of it, Labour’s continued, official support for the government’s timetable renders today’s Supreme Court verdict of little practical consequence - in the Commons, at least. 

In December, our front bench had tried to be clever, crafting a mild motion calling for debate on a published plan before Article 50, to stir a Tory rebellion. But the PM smartly agreed to the demands, tacked on her timetable and Labour got trapped into riding her coat-tails. 

But at least now, through amendments to a government bill, we’ll have the chance – and so will the Lords – to influence the terms of departure, and who in the future has the final say.

In the PM’s speech a fortnight ago, I was pleased with her commitment to protecting the UK’s science base. Last week, I was at the opening of the fifth Innovation Centre at Keele University’s Science Park on my patch, for which European funding has been vital. That’s been hammered out, until 2020, but what happens further out is wholly up in the air. 

I was happy as well, of course, with the passage on workers’ rights. Ten years ago, I introduced the Private Member’s Bill to stop abuse of agency workers – a Labour 2005 manifesto commitment – which was then delivered at European level. That was aimed directly, too, at tackling the sort of levelling down that, all those years ago, was already stoking anger at immigration in areas like mine.

But these were, really, just warm words for the wider audience. The key concerns for our industry, local and national, about tariff-free trade and access to the single market are still there in spades. And in the 21st century economy, we have not squared "control of our borders". The demand for skills, not least when incomers from outside the EU – the element the government ostensibly can limit – formed the majority in the last statistics.

The reality is that, once Article 50 is triggered, the government will not control the agenda.  That will be in the hands, like it or loathe them, of the other 27 member states. 

The PM’s statement was workmanlike, with no real surprises; but what hardly helps the negotiations are the frenzied Noises Off-style gaffes. For Boris Johnson to liken any French President, on his way out or not, to a Colditz camp guard just stores up more trouble for tough times ahead.

In my formative years, way before politics, I organised international youth exchanges. Every summer, teenagers from all over Europe gathered to tend war graves in Berlin – where wounds of conflict were still fresh, and the Cold War divided the city by the Wall. 

My involvement came from growing up in Newcastle - in Staffordshire, where the German cemetery from both world wars lies next to the Commonwealth memorial on Cannock Chase. I grew up believing that the European Union and its forerunners, for all their frequent frustrations, were part and parcel of the architecture of peace, not just prosperity. 

Those loftier arguments, however, got lost sadly in the bewildering trading of facts and fictions in the referendum. "Turkey, population 76 million, is joining the EU. Vote Leave." Well no, it’s not, but those huge, bright red posters certainly changed the tone of the debate in the last few weeks on many a street last June, not just in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
 
After a narrow 52 per cent to 48 per cent Leave vote, we are now, though, where we are. 

For Labour, on our front bench Keir Starmer has been trying to make the best of a bad hand. Thanks to the Supreme Court, he now has an extra card. But I still just don’t like the way the dealer has stacked the deck.

Paul Farrelly is the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme. He has sat on numerous select committees, and currently sits on the Culture, Media and Sports committee. 

Paul Farrelly

Darwin's wettest day in five years

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Australia's 'top end' gets its heaviest monsoon wetting in years.

Turnbull: Potential for China to join TPP after US exit

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Australian PM opens door to Beijing amid efforts to recast Trans-Pacific Partnership without the United States.

Pakistan’s Unending War on Civil Society

By C. Christine Fair from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Pakistan continues to burnish its credentials as a state sponsor of terrorism abroad and as a repressive, murderous environment for dissidents at home.  It is a well-known fact that Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies provide a full suite of state support to a deadly menagerie of militant groups proscribed by the United Nations, the United ...

Predicting Corporate Intelligence Agencies in the 1960s

By Brian Nussbaum from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The recent tumult around the emergence of a dossier suggesting salacious things about President Donald Trump has cast light on a series of for-profit intelligence firms with names like “Orbis International” and “Fusion GPS.” Such organizations are part of a huge industry providing information, analysis, and “decision advantage” for companies, investors, political parties, and often government agencies. It ...

The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Getty

Trump's embassy move to Jerusalem 'self-destructive'

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Trump's gamble in moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will have horrific and irreversible outcomes.

Europe holds its destiny in its own hands

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

We must defend and strengthen a union that allows us to speak with a louder voice

Iraqi forces gear up for anti-ISIL push in west Mosul

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Popular Mobilisation 'prepares' to soon launch operation in city's western part, even as fighting continues in the east.

He went in to report on crystal meth – before long, Luke Williams was hooked

By Anoosh Chakelian from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The journalist moved into a house of meth addicts to investigate the drug. Within a month, he was using, too.

“I got a story, a very good story,” writes the young Australian journalist Luke Williams in the first chapter of his new book, The Ice Age. “Only it wasn’t the one I was expecting.” For three months in 2014, he lived in a house of crystal meth addicts in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to investigate the drug. Within a month, he had forgotten why he was there. He had become addicted himself.

What follows is a dizzying retelling of his experiences, which veers between stories of Williams’s psychotic episodes and facts about his drug of choice. His descent into addiction happened in a nondescript house in Pakenham, a suburb to the south-east of Melbourne – “one of the most badly affected meth areas in Australia”.

Williams, now 36, grew up nearby and went to school there. He already knew two meth users in the area well enough to rent a room with them – an out-of-work labourer called Smithy and his live-in ex-girlfriend Beck. It was they who gave Williams his first shot of crystal meth, less than three weeks into his stay.

The crystal form of methamphetamine, also known as “ice”, is an addictive and powerful stimulant that causes euphoria. It heightens alertness, energy and arousal, with comedowns that can lead to aggression and violence.

It has gained cultural significance in recent years because of the US television drama Breaking Bad, in which an otherwise mild-mannered and law-abiding chemistry teacher “cooks” and sells crystal meth. Yet not much is known about the long-term effects of the drug, which in some countries – such as the Czech Republic – is a graver problem than heroin. In the UK, crystal meth activity is low and mainly linked to the gay chemsex party scene, where drugs are used to enhance group sex experiences.


Photo: Scribe

The drug is linked to severe psychosis, which Williams experienced first hand. Detailed in his book in a neat little list, like a morbid twist on a teenage diary, are Williams’s delusions, entitled: “My psychotic ideas”. Some are harrowing. His conviction that his parents are trying to poison him, for example, which results in him threatening to kill them “with my bare f***ing hands”. Others are amusing: he abandons his journalistic endeavour almost immediately in the belief that his calling is to become a famous rap star.

“I think that I could maybe do spoken word, but rapping? No, no,” he chuckles, when he speaks to me via Skype from Nepal, where he is researching another story. He says that he wanted to investigate crystal meth use partly because he was bored. He had left journalism to work at a law firm, and his life “lacked a bit of kick”.

Although he describes himself as “white, middle-class [and] educated”, he was fixated by the characters from his youth on the city’s outskirts. “I missed [them] in the middle-class world; it seemed so polite and clean . . . I looked forward to getting back there, living cheap, and when I saw the state some of my friends were in, I was very curious to know what was going on with them. Nobody was writing about the working class and the underclass.”

Williams quickly shifted from observer to addict. In alarming and frank detail, his book tells of marathon masturbation sessions (his record was 16 hours), physical altercations and a thick fog of paranoia. He would search his name online and become convinced that anything written by, or about, the name “Luke Williams” involved him.

He became so obsessed with the memory of an ex-boyfriend called Nathaniel that he believed that Smithy had turned his ex “into a transsexual, so that he and his mates could have their way with the new female Nathaniel”.

After three months, Williams was kicked out of the house by an aggressive Smithy, who thought the journalist was stealing his cannabis (he wasn’t). The nearby hospital gave him no help, so Williams ended up on the streets. After a lot of persuasion, he eventually returned to safety with his parents. He has been recovering ever since.

There is talk of a crystal meth “epidemic” in rural and suburban areas of Australia, which has among the highest usage of the drug in the world. The number of people using it there tripled from 2011 to 2016, and 7 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 have reported using amphetamines or methamphetamines (in the UK, it’s 1 per cent).

Although Luke Williams’s story is an insight into one of the world’s most dangerous substances, it’s also a lesson in doing your research. The first time Williams took crystal meth, it was injected by one of his housemates and he believed that it was no different from powdered meth – more commonly known as speed – which he had been using occasionally to give him the energy to write.

The group called everything “meth”, regardless of what they were taking. “Our lingo just didn’t differentiate,” Williams tells me. “People don’t really understand the difference. I got the opportunity to say in the public domain that [crystal meth] is different . . . It eats away at your inside.”

The Ice Age: A Journey Into Crystal-Meth Addiction by Luke Williams is published by Scribe.

COREY HOCHACHKA/ALAMY

What became of Egypt's Arab Spring activists?

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

At the beginning of the Arab Spring, we gained access to the activists behind Egypt's protests. What has become of them?

Death of a stuntman

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

What we know about the accidental shooting death of a stuntman during filming in Australia.

The TPP controversy explained

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The TPP is a controversial trade deal by Pacific countries. Here is what supporters and opponents think of it.

Iraq war map: Who controls what

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

As fighting in parts of Iraq intensifies, a visual breakdown of the control of territory after years of war.

One firm's view on Trump's 'Make in America'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

US President Donald Trump talked about a trade war with China during his election campaign.

Yemen conflict: Who controls what

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

More than two years after storming the capital, Sanaa, Houthi rebels have consolidated control over parts of Yemen.

How Many of His 'Day One' Promises Did Trump Fulfill?

By David A. Graham from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

“On Day One.” The notion of immediately turning the page on policy is a staple of presidential transitions, from Franklin Roosevelt’s “first 100 days” on, but Donald Trump made the promise of things he’d get done on his first day in the White House into a special mantra throughout the campaign.

The full list, as Tim Murphy chronicled, included some things that were either wildly implausible and evidently figurative, or things that are impossible to assess. (How would you “fix” the Veterans Affairs Department on Day One? What does it mean to start taking care of the military?) But Trump also laid out a set of 18 specific, discrete promises for his first day in office in what he called a “Contract With the American Voter.” So how did he do?

First, let’s acknowledge that Trump changed the criteria a little bit, designating Monday as his real first day. “I don’t want to be signing and get it mixed up with lots of celebration,” he told The Times of London. With that, on to the promises.

The first six concern corruption:

Propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.

If Trump has proposed such an amendment formally, there’s been no public announcement of such.

Complete? No.

A hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).

Trump signed a memorandum on Monday declaring, “By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, I hereby order a freeze on the hiring of Federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch. As part of this freeze, no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.” Interestingly, the Contract said it would exclude public safety and public health, but the order excepts only military personnel. The order does, however, offer heads of agencies wide leeway to ignore it: “The head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”

Complete? Yes.

A requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.

There’s no indication that Trump has issued such an order, though White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on Friday sent a memo freezing all new regulations until they can be reviewed by Trump appointees.

Complete? No.

A five-year ban on White House and congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.

There’s no indication of such a ban. While Trump could likely make such a rule for executive-branch employees, he probably could not do so for congressional ones without Congress’s assistance.

Complete? No.

A lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.

There’s no indication that Trump has issued such a ban.

Complete? No.

A complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

There’s no indication that Trump has issued such a ban.

Complete? No.

The next seven promises have been billed as helping American workers:

I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205.

On Sunday, Trump reiterated his declaration that he will renegotiate NAFTA or else walk away from it. It’s unclear what weight a written declaration to that effect would carry beyond what he has already said; there were reports he would sign one Monday anyway, but none has materialized as of writing. As White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted on Monday, Trump would have to notify the other parties to NAFTA if he intended to withdraw the United States from the treaty, under section 2205 of the agreement, but the president has said he’s open to simply revising the existing treaty.

Complete? Yes.

I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In a memorandum to the U.S. trade representative on Monday, Trump wrote, “I hereby direct you to withdraw the United States as a signatory to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to permanently withdraw the United States from TPP negotiations, and to begin pursuing, wherever possible, bilateral trade negotiations to promote American industry, protect American workers, and raise American wages.”

Complete? Yes.

I will direct the Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.

There’s no public announcement of such a directive. One possible road bump: Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for the post of Treasury secretary, has not yet been confirmed, meaning the job is open.

Complete? No.

I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately.

Once again, Trump has not publicly announced or released the text of such a directive. The commerce secretary-designate, Wilbur Ross, has also not yet been confirmed.

Complete? No.

I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

This is one of vaguest of the pledges. Trump has not publicly announced any changes.

Complete? No.

Lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward.

Trump has not released any memorandum or order bearing on the fate of the controversial pipeline, which the Obama administration blocked.

Complete? No.

Cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.

Trump has not released any directive bearing on UN funding.

Complete? No.

The final set of actions in the Contract were labeled as “restor[ing] security and the constitutional rule of law”:

Cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.

This vow necessarily includes a great deal of subjectivity—unless the Supreme Court has made a ruling, who is to say what is and is not unconstitutional? Trump did not issue a large flurry of his own orders revoking Obama’s, either on Friday or on Monday. Trump did, however, reinstitute the “Mexico City Policy,” which bars U.S. government funding for organizations that fund abortion overseas.

Complete? Partly.

Begin the process of selecting a replacement for Justice Scalia from one of the 20 judges on my list, who will uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.

Trump met with William Pryor, one potential appointee, even before the inauguration, and Spicer indicated the choice would be made within two weeks.

Complete? Yes.

Cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities.

Trump has not issued any order or directive attempting to strip funding from sanctuary cities, although it’s not clear he has the authority to do so anyway.

Complete? No.

Begin removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.

Trump has not issued any statements, directives, or order on immigration.

Complete? No.

Suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur. All vetting of people coming into our country will be considered “extreme vetting.”

Again, Trump has not made public any statements or directives related to suspending immigration or reworking the vetting process.

Complete? No.

* * *

It’s not a great score, even allowing for the extra three days: four or a generous five out of 18 complete. (It’s not the first time Trump didn’t follow through on a contract.) That doesn’t mean Trump won’t eventually keep these promises. During Monday’s White House briefing, Spicer was asked why the president hadn’t done all those things.

“We’re going to continue to sequence that out,” he said. “I think part of that is to make sure that we don’t spend out entire day signing executive orders and bringing you in. There’s a way that we can do this to make sure that we’re getting all those things that he promised the American people done in short haste.”

In other words: Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t have said we’d get all that stuff done quite on Day One. Even for a president who pledged to reject the bureaucratic quicksand of Washington, D.C., it’s not always easy to get things done as quickly as one might hope. But studies show that presidents do in fact follow through on most of their promises, and President Trump has a long list of other, larger vows to work on now.

Afghanistan: Who controls what

From Al Jazeera English. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

More than a decade after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the armed group is still active across Afghanistan.

Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Getty

Supreme Court Article 50 winner demands white paper on Brexit

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

The Supreme Court ruled Parliament must be consulted before triggering Article 50. Grahame Pigney, of the People's Challenge, plans to build on the victory. 

A crowd-funded campaign that has forced the government to consult Parliament on Article 50 is now calling for a white paper on Brexit.

The People's Challenge worked alongside Gina Miller and other interested parties to force the government to back down over its plan to trigger Article 50 without prior parliamentary approval. 

On Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court ruled 8-3 that the government must first be authorised by an act of Parliament.

Grahame Pigney, the founder of the campaign, said: "It is absolutely great we have now got Parliament back in control, rather than decisions taken in some secret room in Whitehall.

"If this had been overturned it would have taken us back to 1687, before the Bill of Rights."

Pigney, whose campaign has raised more than £100,000, is now plannign a second campaign. He said: "The first step should be for a white paper to be brought before Parliament for debate." The demand has also been made by the Exiting the European Union select committee

The "Second People's Challenge" aims to pool legal knowledge with like-minded campaigners and protect MPs "against bullying and populist rhetoric". 

The white paper should state "what the Brexit objectives are, how (factually) they would benefit the UK, and what must happen if they are not achieved". 

The campaign will also aim to fund a Europe-facing charm offensive, with "a major effort" to ensure politicians in EU countries understand that public opinion is "not universally in favour of ‘Brexit at any price’".

Pigney, like Miller, has always maintained that he is motivated by the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, rather than a bid to stop Brexit per se.

In an interview with The Staggers, he said: "One of the things that has characterised this government is they want to keep everything secret.”

Getty

The best days of the internet are over – now our privacy will suffer

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Thankfully, nobody can see the Freddie Mercury impression I uploaded to YouTube in 2006. Tomorrow's teenagers, however, might not be so lucky.

In the 11 years since I uploaded it to YouTube, 48,514 people have watched a video of my 14-year-old self singing and dancing to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. If you wanted to find the video today – and I don’t see why you would, considering that, as I arrive at “scaramouche, scaramouche”, I get distracted by a cat and, two minutes later, I hit my head on a ceiling light – you wouldn’t be able to. This is because when I started applying for grown-up jobs, I set the video to “private”. It exists on the internet but can only be seen by me.

There is an idea, propagated by anyone who nostalgically remembers a time when children played out on the streets and didn’t come home until dinner, that kids who use the internet are destined to be haunted by what they post online. Thus far, my life has not been blighted by my YouTube video, nor by the pictures I posted to Bebo in 2005, nor by the poems I scribbled on Myspace in 2008. Yet I fear that things will be different for my children, or their children.

The internet has changed so rapidly over the past decade that I can now prematurely join the “back in my day” brigade. The old Wild West of the World Wide Web has now been colonised by a few big-time cowboys. The experimental social media pages of the Noughties quickly died and took my embarrassing teenage pictures with them, but today’s social networks become more embedded in our lives by the day. While “private” used to be simply a button I could press to hide my YouTube shame, it is now a concept under threat.

At the end of 2016, the Investigatory Powers Act – or “Snoopers’ Charter”, as it has come to be known – became law. The act grants the government unprecedented spying powers, so that your online communications and search records can be intercepted by 48 different agencies, including – bizarrely – the Department for Transport and the Food Standards Agency. The level of surveillance that the act permits is dystopian, especially when used in concert with the Digital Economy Bill, which has just passed its second reading in the House of Lords. This legislation seeks, among other things, to ban “adult” sites that don’t implement age-verification measures. The word “adult” here seems deliberately vague.

The near-lawless era of the internet so far is coming to an end. Age verification, a process that involves handing over your identity, threatens internet anonymity, which in turn threatens much of the internet’s art (and arguments). The banning and blocking of websites that do not comply with the government’s moral ruling destroys the foundational freedoms of the information age, while surveillance powers threaten the way in which we use the internet.

None of this threatens my 2006 YouTube video, nor my ability to make another in 2017, but it shows that we must change the way we think about how our internet histories will haunt us as we grow. It is not embarrassing YouTube videos or pictures of drunken antics that should worry today’s teenagers, but the keywords that they search and the messages that they send. Until now, we have taken for granted that such things will remain private. That is no longer the case.

Even before the law began to curtail the Wild Web, its individual territories had already been seized, bit by bit, by a handful of powerful corporations. Facebook has acquired more than 50 companies in the past 12 years, including social networks, speech recognition services and virtual reality developers. Through these acquisitions, Face­book has obtained a staggering amount of personal data. Last August, the social network revealed that it uses 98 different aspects of your private information just to target adverts at you.

Naturally, this encroachment of our privacy has provoked a backlash. Yet the people who started sending messages on WhatsApp to avoid being spied on by Face­book Messenger were deterred when the former was acquired by the latter in 2014. This month, we learned that WhatsApp messages, too, can be intercepted and read.

Then  there is the “internet of things” (IoT). Gradually, we invite internet-connected kettles, toys and even hairbrushes into our homes, many of which are equipped with microphones that can be hacked to listen to our every word. Yet before any malicious hacker sets his or her fingers to their keys, the companies behind many IoT products freely admit to saving and storing an abundance of your personal data. Echo, Amazon’s “constantly listening” smart speaker, records everything you say to it and stores it on a server. It is George Orwell’s telescreen, except that you pay £149.99 for the privilege of having it in your home.

It feels dramatic to claim that the era of internet freedom is over, yet all the signs point that way. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called these “dark, dark days”. Who will stop our freedoms being infringed further? We stand to lose so much by exiting the European Union that there has been little mention of how it protects online freedom. Last December, the European Court of Justice declared the Investigatory Powers Act to be unlawful, but will this matter after Brexit?

Posting a video of myself singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” was not the worst thing I did online in 2006, but it was by far the most visible. As a curious teenager, I undoubtedly asked Google how to dispose of a dead body, and long before that I definitely sent messages that should never, ever have been sent. But while I only had to worry about my poor Freddie Mercury impression, tomorrow’s teens will have to be aware that they are being watched every time they press send.

Amelia Tait is a digital culture writer for newstatesman.com. Helen Lewis is away

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Encouraging Residential Moves to Opportunity Neighborhoods

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Given the potential benefits of upwardly mobile residential moves, housing practitioners should continue testing policies to facilitate voucher-based opportunity moves.

Parental Deployment, Adolescent Academic and Social–Behavioral Maladjustment, and Parental Psychological Well-Being in Military Families

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Long deployments can increase the risk for negative adolescent and parental outcomes, relative to short or no deployment; military fathers and adolescent boys may be more strongly affected than military mothers and adolescent girls.

Dublin jockeys for Brexit spoils

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

An exodus from London could provide a fillip for a city just recovering from the financial crisis

Spanish corporate growing pains drag on economy

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Productivity fears as sector fails to push through the size barrier

Cash cards bring ‘dignity’ to Turkey’s refugees

From Europe News. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Families benefit from EU aid that supports local economy and empowers recipients

'Help me find my family'

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

How a 19-year-old Swiss man's appeal for information on his birth family led to a huge response.

Rebel with a cause

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

What does the rise of left-wing presidential hopeful Benoit Hamon say about France's Socialists?

Making a statement

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Chinese hotels are using art to try and stand out from their competitors, but does it make business sense?

Sun-powered satellite TV

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Households without mains electricity in rural areas of Kenya can now receive solar-powered satellite TV.

Film Screening and Q&A—The Constitution: A Love Story About Hate

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Winner of the Montreal Film Festival Grand Prize of the Americas, The Constitution explores intolerance and hate through the stories of four neighbors in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Future of the U.S. Supreme Court

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Experts provide their perspectives on the polarization of the U.S. Supreme Court, the role partisan politics has played in recent decisions, and the impact of the presidential election on the Court.

Civil Society Scholar Awards

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

The Civil Society Scholar Awards support international academic mobility to enable doctoral students and university faculty to access resources that enrich socially engaged research and critical scholarship.

False Dawn

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Peace, Conflict, and Human Rights. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

A sweeping narrative account of the last five years in the Middle East and a timely argument of how and why the Arab uprisings failed.

One Man's Search for Meaning in the Rhythm of Tap

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Fred Nelson found tap dancing late in his life, but it’s what brings him the most joy. In the short film He Who Dances on Wood, Nelson delivers a touching soliloquy on the fulfillment he feels while tapping out a rhythm on a small piece of wood. “There's nothing that gives me more joy than when I'm in there tap dancing. It's a way of talking, speaking—the wood has a voice too,” he says. “I know I've found my joy. It's not Jesus, it's not Allah, it's a piece of wood.” This film was produced and directed by Jessica Beshir for BRIC TV. To see more of BRIC’s work, visit their website and Youtube channel.

China’s Growing Ambitions in Space

By Marina Koren from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

In his inaugural address, President Donald Trump said that the United States stands “ready to unlock the mysteries of space,” but given that he has yet to outline his NASA policy, it may be months before the country learns what that means. Meanwhile, China is moving boldly ahead with its own space-exploration efforts, and with little ambiguity about its mission. The country recently announced it would conduct about 30 launches this year. The target, if met, would be a record for China. The country conducted 21 successful orbital-launch missions in 2016, and 19 the year before that. The output puts China in a close second behind the United States, which saw 22 successful launches, and ahead of Russia, which conducted 16.

And there’s plenty more to come, according to a recent report from the China National Space Administration (CNSA), a quinquennial document that lays out the country’s space goals for the next five years. The report, released late last month, said CNSA will launch in 2017 its first-ever cargo spacecraft, headed for the space laboratory launched last year. In 2018, CNSA aims to land a rover to the far side of the moon, a first for humankind. And in 2020, it plans to land a rover on Mars, a feat that has been attempted by Russia and other European nations, but only successfully accomplished by the United States.

“Our overall goal is that, by around 2030, China will be among the major space powers of the world,” Wu Yanhua, the deputy chief of the National Space Administration, said recently.

While the report doesn’t mention it, Chinese space officials have said they would put astronauts on the moon by the mid-2030s.

The report demonstrates the growing capabilities of a burgeoning space program, one that’s often overlooked in a domain of other spacefaring nations, particularly the United States. China’s military-run space program began to take shape in the mid-1950s, at the start of the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Its efforts would be repeatedly derailed by political turmoil inside the country. Experts say the program is a decade or so behind the leading spacefaring nations, but it’s no rookie. China is only the third country to put its own astronauts into space, and, with Americans launching to space on Russian rockets, it’s currently only one of two that retains that capacity.

China first sent an astronaut into space in 2003. Yang Liwei, a former fighter pilot, orbited the Earth for 21 hours inside a Shenzhou spacecraft, launched by one of the Long March rockets. The pace of exploration quickened from there. In 2007, a Long March rocket sent Chang’e-1, an uncrewed orbiter, for a 15-month rendezvous around the moon. In 2011, CNSA launched Tiangong-1, the first component for a prototype orbital laboratory like the International Space Station. A Shenzhou  spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang, successfully docked with Tiangong-1 a year later. China returned to the moon in 2013, landing the country’s first lunar rover. CNSA lost control over its would-be space station in 2016, but a successor, Tiangong-2, launched not long after. In November, two astronauts spent 30 days aboard Tiangong-2, China’s longest crewed mission, to study how to live and work in microgravity. The Americans and the Russians have spent years learning about surviving in orbit on the ISS, but for the Chinese, this was pioneering work.

China’s space activities represent “goals that any ambitious space country would want to pursue,” says John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University who founded the Space Policy Institute there in 1987. And though China’s space capabilities are significantly behind those of the United States and Russia, particularly in deep-space exploration, experts say they’re about on par with Europe’s. (China and Russia have the technology to send people into space, while the U.S. doesn’t—at least until SpaceX and Boeing successfully test their NASA-sponsored Commercial Crew programs.)

But there’s no space race, Logsdon says, despite some of the headlines that tend to emerge whenever China launches anything.

Space exploration has always been as much a quest for geopolitical gain as it has for scientific discovery. The Americans and the Russians carried out launch after launch in the middle of the century not, first and foremost, for the sake of science, but in the name of national identity. China’s civilian and military space programs—and their motivations—are inextricably linked. Some analysts say it can be easy to overstate the influence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army on space activities, and point out that the scientists and engineers on the civilian side are like scientists and engineers at NASA. But there is no solid delineation between the two. China’s ambitions in space are as strategic as the Vostok and Apollo programs of the 1960s.

“When you are the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon, that says something about your science and technology, that says something about your industry,” says Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., and one of the few Chinese-speaking analysts in the U.S. that focus on China’s space program. “It says something about what you can achieve that in turn is going to affect how countries view China when it comes to terrestrial issues, whether it’s border disputes, whether it’s building islands in the South China Sea, whether it’s Taiwan’s future.”

The Chinese government is notoriously secretive about both its civil and military space activities, but it has at times provided small glimpses of its work in the last decade. The Shenzhou 6 launch at the Jiuquan launch facility in 2005 was broadcast live. Foreign reporters were banned from attending the launch, and such access remains restricted. The same goes for private citizens, who are not likely to reach Jiuquan and other launch sites, which are located in remote areas. For outsiders, understanding the country’s pursuits requires reading between the lines. Take CNSA’s recent mention of China’s efforts to improve its satellite remote-sensing system, for example. “That’s also called a spy satellite,” Cheng points out.

Such is the two-side nature of space exploration: A rocket can launch a capsule to the moon—or a bomb toward an enemy.

“If I can monitor the oceans for ocean salinity, I can learn a lot of stuff about climate change. I can also learn about ocean conditions that might help me find submarines,” Cheng said. “Synthetic aperture radar can see through clouds and see all sorts of things, whether it is geographic features or whether it is an armored battalion under camouflage.”

China has spent the last decade demonstrating its technological abilities in cislunar space, the area between the Earth and the moon, where satellites and space telescopes alike reside. The country now operates more satellites than Russia does, though both are bested by the U.S. Through its Chang’e program, named for the goddess of the moon, China has shown it can maneuver spacecraft around the moon and rovers on its surface. Such advancements may not seem particularly noteworthy to some American observers, but that perspective is misguided, says Paul Spudis, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. NASA is planning to launch an uncrewed spacecraft to orbit the moon in 2018, but Spudis wishes the U.S. would put more focus and funding into lunar missions than it has.

“The reason we’re interested in going back to the moon was not to repeat Apollo, and that’s why this trite saying used sometimes—‘been there, done that’—is really inappropriate because no one ever proposed to go back and redo what we’d already done in the 1960s,” Spudis says. “What we’re proposing to do is to go back to the moon to learn how to live and work productively on another world.”

China’s cislunar activities, particularly its crewed missions, are aimed at cementing its place as a major player in space. “Human space flight is generally recognized by scientists the world over to be the most expensive but least scientifically beneficial use of the human and fiscal resources national governments devote to space-related activity,” Gregory Kulacki, a senior analyst and China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an American nonprofit group, explains in an email. “The scientific benefits of crewed missions are small. But the geopolitical benefits are huge.”

For the same reason, American lawmakers in Congress have spent years telling NASA to get humans into space on its own—not for a desire for more scientific research, but because they don’t want to depend on Russia for the technology. Kulacki says Chinese scientists have told the government that robotic missions into deep space provide more scientific opportunities and cost less—but they’re not as flashy as a smiling spacewalker on the moon.  

Not all of China’s cislunar activities have been as civil as launching a rover. In 2007, the country deliberately launched a projectile at one of its defunct weather satellites and blew it up, sending thousands of pieces of debris soaring through Earth’s orbit. The anti-satellite test was the first of its kind since 1985, when the U.S. launched a rocket at one of its satellites. China did not confirm the test had occurred until after Western news reports emerged. The government received a public dressing-down from the international community, but maintained it wasn’t seeking to weaponize space. In late 2014, China asked the U.S. to share information about possible satellite collisions, an unprecedented move that was welcomed by the American security community. According to U.S. defense officials, China has continued to conduct anti-satellite tests. None have scattered significant debris, but security officials and analysts remain wary.

Inside China, space activities, civil and military, are used to stoke nationalist sentiment. Public opinion data is nearly impossible to obtain, and if pollsters were asking the Chinese population about their priorities, they wouldn’t start with questions about the moon, Cheng says. Manufacturers mention the space program in their ads in an attempt to assure consumers of their product’s quality, a particularly sneaky tactic in a nation with significant lapses in quality control. Cheng said he once drank bottled water with a label bearing a tiny image of a Chinese astronaut and the message “water used on the Shenzhou.” (U.S. manufacturers did the same in the 1960s; sales for the powdered fruit drink Tang rose after commercials started mentioning that the Gemini astronauts drank it in space.)

“The Chinese government has certainly tried to use space as part of its arguments for de facto legitimacy,” Cheng says. “It is no accident that senior science leaders are consistently photographed at the launch of major missions.”

If there is a space race anywhere, experts say, it’s inside Asia—and it’s more of marathon than a sprint. India put a spacecraft into the orbit of Mars in 2014. South Korea is preparing for rocket launch tests in 2019. And Japan is aiming to send its first lander to the moon in 2019.

Perhaps the feeling of a race has always been felt most acutely inside nations, between scientists and political leaders. When the Russians sent Sputnik up in 1957, Mao Zedong decided the Chinese would launch their own satellite to space in 1959, the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China and a favored target for the completion of many projects of the Great Leap Forward, the leader’s ultimately disastrous attempt to rapidly industrialize the country. Scientists knew this would be impossible with the technology they had, and the deadline came and went. China would not launch a satellite until 1970, and political pressures would take precedence over preparedness once more. The first satellite was planned to feature sophisticated, data-collecting instruments. But the directive from the top to scientists was to “get it up, follow it around, make it seen, make it heard,” according to a history on China’s space activities Kulacki wrote in 2009. In the end, the satellite could only play the first few bars of “East Is Red,” an instrumental song glorifying Mao and his Cultural Revolution, as it whirled around the Earth.

Industrial policy in the UK, without the industry

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

What the government should and should not do to boost productivity

Fillon urges Merkel to soften stance on Russia

From Europe News. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Presidential hopeful flies to Berlin to discuss issues such as immigration and Turkey

A new twist in France’s unpredictable contest

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Independent Macron may be the real winner of the Socialist primary

A new twist in France’s unpredictable contest

From Europe News. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Independent Macron may be the real winner of the Socialist primary

Progress was slow on the Women’s March, but that’s a pretty useful metaphor

By Tracey Thorn from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

You inch and shuffle along. You start to feel you might get crushed. But you know you’re going in the right direction.

On the morning of the London Women’s March, I realise I am underdressed. I don’t have a slogan T-shirt, or badges, or a banner. I do, however, have sandwiches. “My body is my banner,” I say facetiously to someone on Twitter, and later on, it feels quite true. The sight of all these women’s bodies gathered together in one place does look like a statement, as powerful as any of the words on the placards.

The placards, many and various, are all great. They say “Nasty Woman” and “Fight like a girl”. A group in full suffragette costume hold up the words “Same Shit Different Century”. There is passion, but humour, too, giving the lie to the notion that this is a bunch of sanctimonious prigs out for a day of virtue-signalling. “Grab ’em by the patriarchy”. “Feminazis against actual Nazis”. “I know signs, I’ve got the best signs”. Ambivalence shows itself, too, an awareness that some of us are outside our comfort zone, like with the guy holding a placard that says, “Not usually my thing, marching – but honestly,” and my favourite of the day, which sums up the generalised exasperation many feel, a simple and heartfelt “FOR F***’S SAKE”.

As we march, there’s not much chanting, perhaps because there isn’t one single slogan that sums up our purpose. No “Maggie Maggie Maggie, out out out”, or “The National Front is a Nazi front, Smash the National Front”. Someone starts up a refrain of “Dump Trump, dump Trump” and everyone joins in for a minute, but it sounds like a mob of supporters chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!” so it soon fizzles out.

On Park Lane cars whoosh past in the opposite direction, hooting in support, and a Mexican wave of cheering rolls through the crowd. Then suddenly we catch up with a slowly moving sound system on a bike, loudly playing Althea and Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking”, and for a few blocks the crowd is dancing and singing “Love is all I bring”, until we move on and the music fades behind us.

By the time we get to Trafalgar Square we are a hundred thousand strong. My little gang and I climb up on to a raised grassed area in front of the National Gallery, and from there we watch the rest of the marchers stream into the square. The crowd gets tighter and tighter and still they come, more people than I thought possible, and even though we’re too far back to hear a word of any speeches, I look up at the David Shrigley sculpture on the Fourth Plinth that towers over us and see that it’s giving a big thumbs-up to the day.

The spirit has been buoyant, motivated, positive. For those who ask what the march was for, I would answer it was a morale boost, a shout of “You’re not alone, you’re not mad!” in the face of crowing and gaslighting. It was for the promotion of defiantly keeping your pecker up. I get home and I see the images from around the world, the great flowing crowds, rivers into oceans, and of course I also see the comments that dismiss what we’ve done, deriding the futility of it, but I’m too cheered up to give a single shit. My only riposte on Twitter is: “DON’T bring along a CLOUD to rain on my PARADE!”

For we’re not fools. We know a march won’t change the world. A crowd can be inspiring and uplifting. Surrounded by like minds, you feel empowered, and yes, it’s easy to get carried away. But an event of this kind also operates as a pretty useful metaphor. Because the truth is, on a march of this size you don’t do much real marching. You inch and shuffle along, you stumble and stop, your progress is incremental at the best of times. You hit a bottleneck and the entire crowd grinds to a complete standstill; the line gets backed up, and as people press in around you on all sides you start to fear that you might get crushed.

It’s understandable at that point to want to get out, maybe try to stand to one side. But then, slowly, slowly, something up ahead clears and the crowd starts to move again, plodding forward, step by step, and you’re happy just to be going in the right direction, craning your neck to try and see the endpoint, just there up ahead in the distance, always around the next corner. 

Getty Images

On President Trump's To-Do List: Fixing a World in Disarray

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

How did we get from a new world order to a world in disarray? CFR President Richard Haass explains and suggests what President Trump should do first and what he should avoid.

We’re hiring! Join the New Statesman as a digital sub-editor

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Applications close on 10 February.

The New Statesman is looking for a hard-working, conscientious individual to oversee its digital production. The role will include subbing and headlining online stories, adapting print headlines to the web, and overseeing the iPad and other digital editions. It is a full time role based in our office in Blackfriars.

The successful applicant will:

  • Have previous experience of sub-editing in a magazine, newspaper or current affairs website;
  • Be used to working in a team;
  • Be disciplined about managing their time and juggling multiple tasks across a working day;
  • Have a good understanding of SEO and social optimisation, and a flair for writing compelling, accurate and informative headlines;
  • Have experience of content management systems;
  • Be flexible, able to help with a wide variety of tasks in the office if needed.
  • Have the judgement to fact-check stories, and identify any legal queries or inconsistencies.

Experience of iPad and Kindle production is desirable but not essential. This role will report to our digital editor. The salary is dependent on experience.

To apply, please send a short covering letter outlining your suitability for the role and 200 words on how the New Statesman could improve its digital production.

Emails should be sent to india.bourke@newstatesman.co.uk with the subject line “Online sub-editor”. The closing deadline for applications is noon on Friday, 10 February.

 

New Statesman

The Demon Voice That Can Control Your Smartphone

By Kaveh Waddell from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Here’s a fun experiment: Next time you’re on a crowded bus, loudly announce, “Hey Siri! Text mom, ‘I'm pregnant.’” Chances are you’ll get some horrified looks as your voice awakens iPhones in nearby commuters’ pockets and bags. They’ll dive for their phones to cancel your command.

But what if there was a way to talk to phones with sounds other than words? Unless the phones’ owners were prompted for confirmation—and realized what was going on in time to intervene—they’d have no idea that anything was being texted on their behalf.

Turns out there’s a gap between the kinds of sounds that people and computers understand as human speech. Last summer, a group of Ph.D. candidates at Georgetown and Berkeley exploited that gap: They developed a way to create voice commands that computers can parse—but that sound like meaningless noise to humans. These “hidden voice commands,” as the researchers called them, can deliver a message to Google Assistant-enabled Android phones nearby through bursts of what sounds like scratchy static.

For the commands to work, the speaker that broadcasts them has to be nearby: The researchers found that commands became ineffective at a distance of about 12 feet. But that doesn’t mean someone has to be conspicuously close to a device for their hidden-command attack to succeed. A message could be encoded into the background of a popular YouTube video, for example, or broadcast on the radio or TV.

(Earlier this month, a local news report about a young child who ordered a dollhouse through Amazon’s voice assistant triggered Amazon Echo devices sitting near viewers’ TVs to place the same order during the segment.)

The primary way people interact with smartphones is by touching them. That’s why smartphone screens can be thoroughly locked down, requiring a passcode or thumbprint to access. But voice is becoming an increasingly important interface, too, turning devices into always-listening assistants ready to take on any task their owner yells their way. Put in Apple’s new wireless earphones, and Siri becomes your point of contact for interacting with your smartphone without taking it out of your pocket or bag.

The more sensors get packed into our ubiquitous pocket-computers, the more avenues someone can use to control them. (In the field of security research, this is known as an ‘increased attack surface.’) Microphones can be hijacked with ultrasonic tones for market research. Cameras can receive messages from rapidly flickering lights, which can be used for surveillance and connectivity or even to disable or alter a phone’s features.

Most assistants include some safeguards against overheard or malicious commands. The phrases I suggested you shout out earlier will prompt phones within earshot to ask for confirmation. Siri, for example, will read back the contents of the text or tweet a user dictates before actually sending it off. But a determined attacker could conceivably defeat the confirmation, too. All it would take is a simple “yes” before a device’s owner realizes what’s going on and says “no.”

Hidden voice commands can cause more damage than just a false text or silly tweet. An iPhone whose owner has already linked Siri to a Venmo account, for example, will send money in response to a spoken instruction. Or a voice command could tell a device to visit a website that automatically downloads malware.

The researchers developed two different sets of hidden commands to work on two different types of victims. One set was created to work on Google Assistant, which is challenging to hoodwink because the inner workings of how it processes human speech aren’t public. To start, the researchers used obfuscating algorithms to make computer-spoken commands less recognizable to human ears but still understandable by the digital assistants. They kept iterating until they found the sweet spot where the audio was least recognizable to people but most consistently picked up by the devices.

The resulting hidden commands aren’t complete gibberish. They mostly just sound like they’re spoken by a fearsome demon rather than your average human.

If you know you’re about to hear a masked voice command, you’re probably more likely to be able to parse it. So to avoid those priming effects, the Georgetown and Berkeley researchers enlisted Americans through Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s service for hiring workers for small projects, to listen to the original and garbled commands and write down what they heard.

The difference between man and machine was most pronounced with the simple command “Okay, Google.” When it was said normally, people and devices understood it about 90 percent of the time. But when the command was processed and masked, humans could only understand it about 20 percent of the time—but Google Assistant actually got better at understanding it, interpreting it correctly 95 percent of the time. (The effects were less drastic with “Turn on airplane mode”: Human understanding dropped from 69 to 24 percent when the command was masked, and device accuracy fell from 75 to 45 percent.)

When a colleague and I tried out the researchers’ voice commands on an Android phone and an iPhone running the Google app, we had limited success. “Okay, Google” seemed to work more than the other hidden commands, but “What is my current location” got us everything from “rate my current location” to “Frank Ocean.” That may be in part because we were playing YouTube recordings from our laptops, which likely degraded their quality.

The researchers also developed attacks designed not for Google Assistant but for an open-source speech-recognition program, whose code they could peruse in order to tailor their hidden voice commands as closely as possible to satisfy the algorithm. The resulting audio clips sound less demonic and more like white noise. Most are truly indecipherable, even if you know you’re listening for words: Not a single Mechanical Turk worker could piece together even half of the words in these obfuscated commands.

And if you don’t know you’re listening for words, you might not even know what just happened. When the researchers put a hidden phrase in between two human-spoken phrases and asked the Amazon Turk workers to transcribe the entire thing, only one quarter even tried to transcribe the middle phrase.

After they set about tricking digital assistants, the team of researchers brainstormed ways to improve defenses against attacks like theirs. A simple notification isn’t enough, they determined, because it’s easily ignored or drowned out by other noise. A confirmation is a bit better, but it can be defeated by another hidden command. And speaker-recognition technology, which would ostensibly teach a device to recognize and only respond to its owner’s voice, is often inaccurate and requires cumbersome training.

The best options, they concluded, are machine-learning solutions that either try to ensure that a speaker is actually human by analyzing certain characteristics in a spoken command, or that filter each command through a process that slightly degrades the quality of incoming instructions. In the latter case, already-garbled “hidden” instructions  would become too distorted to be recognized, but human speech would still be intelligible, the thinking goes.

But if filters make it harder for devices to understand humans, even a little bit, companies might be reticent to apply them. For frustrated users whose digital assistants rarely understand them, less accuracy could be a deal breaker.

Before voice assistants start taking on more and more sensitive operations, however—making large bank transfers, for example, or even just tweeting photos—voice-activated assistants will need to become more adept at fending off attackers. Otherwise, an anonymous, satanic voice in a YouTube video could cause a lot more damage than a shouted command in a crowded bus.

Calls for Swiss army to accept overweight recruits

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

MPs say weight should be overlooked to combat the military's skills shortage.

Africa: A shrinking space for autocrats

From Analysis. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Jammeh’s exit from Gambia is being hailed as proof of democracy’s resilience in region

Macron to gain if French Socialists pick leftwinger

From Europe News. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Analysts believe independent’s presidential run will benefit if Hamon wins primary

The Monzo question: should you ditch the high street and do all your banking on your phone?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Monzo - the mobile-only start-up bank - is giving out "golden tickets" to skip its waiting list. But is it a good deal?

For a few days I see the word everywhere – but I don’t bother to Google it. It sounds like a lesser-known Muppet or a new type of sausage, and I resolutely ignore the mentions of it that seem to flood social media. But then, just as I’ve resigned myself to forget about the whole thing forever, a good friend messages me to say: “Would you like to try Monzo? I have a golden ticket.”

Monzo is a startup mobile-only bank that allows you, among other things, to track your purchases via an app, create budgets, and freeze your card temporarily if you misplace it. Yet as well as being one of the first solely digital UK banks, it is also the first bank that has managed to get people tell-all-your-friends-and-scream-about-it-online excited. How? Tom Blomfield, Monzo’s CEO and co-founder, attributes this to one thing:

“Our strategy is pretty simple – make something people want.”

Blomfield says he and his team created Monzo because they are “hugely frustrated” with the state of traditional banking. “I've banked with NatWest for 16 years and I feel like I'm trapped in an abusive relationship… we want to do something that actually works for people.”

In its current iteration, Monzo is simply a pre-paid debit card that you can top up, with an app that will show you your purchases in real time. This might not sound like much, but it is sufficient to create a buzz with people frustrated that their current banking apps will only show their purchases (or whether they’ve slipped into their overdraft) two to three days later. The app also uses your phone’s geolocation chip to process when you’ve gone abroad and inform you of exchange rates. “Every time I go abroad with my traditional bank card it gets blocked for fraud,” says Blomfield. “We want to use the technology to remove a lot of the painful edges of banking.” In the coming months, the app’s restricted banking license will be lifted and they will offer a full current account with an overdraft. 

Yet although Monzo is different, it is not unique. Multiple startup banks exist, including Loot, Atom, and Tandem, but Monzo has received the most publicity. The popstar Lily Allen has tweeted about the app (back when it was called Mondo, before a trademark challenge), and recently Ben Greenwood, a self-described “Social Media Influencer” has praised the bank. Blomfield says neither of these posts were sponsored, so how has Monzo managed to generate so much hype?

“I wish I could say I signed up for Monzo in order to get my finances in order. To be honest, it was the draw of being part of something new,” says Brenda, the friend who first told me about the app. Monzo currently has a week-long waiting list, but gives current customers – of which there are 100,000 – a “golden ticket” to give to their friends. This means they can gain immediate access.

“It's a really useful throttling mechanism so we don't get overwhelmed with demand,” says Blomfield, “The waiting list has created a real scarcity about it, so we’ve played into that.” A large proportion of tweets about Monzo seem to mention golden tickets – proving the marketing strategy has been highly effective, and explaining the sudden hype. 

But it’s not just the technology and marketing that are revolutionary about Monzo – according to Blomfield, it's the entire ethos of the company. “We actually don't hire that many people from banks because they seem to have been brainwashed,” he says. “When we interview our new job candidates we always talk about customers’ problems and how you might solve them and people who don’t work in banks come up with all these amazing solutions to really help people. People who have worked in banks typically come and say ‘Ah for that problem you need a credit card, for this other problem you need a fixed term loan’, they don't think about what customers are really pissed off about and how to fix that.”

It’s at this point where things start to sound a little too good to be true. Yet Brenda tells me she is “continually impressed” by the app, and enjoys the lack of banking jargon and the use of emojis in notifications. “However there is one key thing that's missing,” she says, “Trust. I still don't use it as my full 'current account', instead I top it up with £20, £30 every couple of days. There is something preventing me from putting my full trust into Monzo - perhaps it's because it hasn't earned it.”

When I first look into Monzo, this too is my primary concern. It seems risky to trust a startup with something so crucial as your finances, and the amount of data Monzo collects is vast. “Your bank has a ton of your personal data, but they don't use it for your benefit,” counters Blomfield when I express these concerns. “Our fundamental philosophy is that the data belongs to the customer.” He adds that each customer must agree before any of their data is shared with third-parties. 

Blomfield also takes security seriously, and Monzo frequently ask hackers to attempt to infiltrate their servers as a way of uncovering any flaws. When it comes to a more traditional theft, Blomfield says services within your phone, such a thumbprint scanners, can protect the app. “If someone chops your thumb off then yes, they can steal your money.”

Yet Monzo still has to earn consumers' trust. “Don’t switch from day one,” he says. “That’s like asking someone to get married on the first date. Put £100 on the card. Try it out, give it a go, and if stuff goes wrong, see how we deal with it compared to your traditional bank.” 

Although talking to Blomfield reassured me, something else provoked me to download the app this weekend. On Friday, I lost and cancelled my bank card, only to discover it nestled in my coat pocket this morning. The ability to freeze a card temporarily - which Monzo offers - would have saved me a world of pain/hold music. In the end, then, the sales pitch is not about how revolutionary Monzo is - but how backward every other bank seems to be.

Monzo

Why Boris Johnson is Theresa May's biggest Brexit liability

By James Crisp from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

The Foreign secretary is loved by Eurosceptics and detested by EU negotiators. 

Boris Johnson is a joke in Brussels but not the funny kind. He is seen as the liar who tricked Britain into leaving the European Union.

Since his election as a MEP in 1999, Nigel Farage has sucked EU money into his campaign to get the UK out of the EU. But the contempt reserved for Boris is of a different order - because he should have known better.

Johnson has impeccable European pedigree. His father Stanley was an MEP and influential European Commission official. Unsurprisingly, Stanley is a Remainer as is Johnson’s brother Jo.  

The fury reserved for Johnson and his betrayal is of a particularly bitter vintage. Johnson was educated in the European School of Brussels in the leafy and well-heeled suburb of Uccle, where, years later, Nick Clegg lived when he was a MEP.

The contempt stems from his time as the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels correspondent. Fake news is now big news. Many in the self-styled “capital of Europe” believe Boris pioneered it.

Johnson was an imaginative reporter. Many still discuss his exclusive about the planned dynamiting of the European Commission. The Berlaymont headquarters stands untouched to this day.

Rival British hacks would receive regular bollockings from irate editors furious to have been beaten to another Boris scoop. They weren’t interested in whether this meant embroidering the truth. 

Johnson invented a uniquely British genre of journalism – the Brussels-basher. It follows a clear template.

Something everyday and faintly ridiculous, like condoms or bananas, fall victim to meddling Brussels bureaucrats. 

The European Commission eventually set up a “Euromyth”website to explode the pervasive belief that Brussels wanted you to eat straight bananas.  Unsurprisingly, it made no difference. Commission staff now insist on being called "European civil servants" rather than bureaucrats.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was so worried about negative headlines that he stalled energy efficiency legislation until after the referendum.

When he shelved sensible laws to restrict excessive energy consumption on toasters and hairdryers, he was rewarded with a Hero of the Week award by the German tabloid Bild, which had developed a taste for Boris-style hackery.  

Many in Brussels draw a direct line from Johnson’s stories to the growing Eurosceptism in the Conservatives, and from that to Ukip, and ultimately Brexit.

To make matters worse, Johnson was the star of the Brexit campaign. His performance confirmed the view of him as an opportunistic charlatan.

The infamous £350m a week bus caused outrage in Brussels, but not as much as what Boris did next.

He compared the EU to Adolf Hitler. Boris knows better than most how offensive that is to the many European politicians who believe that the EU has solidified peace on the continent. 

European Council President Donald Tusk was furious. “When I hear the EU being compared to the plans and projects of Adolf Hitler I cannot remain silent,” said Tusk, a Pole.

“Boris Johnson crossed the boundaries of a rational discourse, demonstrating political amnesia,” he declared, and added there was “no excuse for this dangerous blackout”. It was the first time a leading EU figure had intervened in the referendum campaign.

After the vote for Brexit and his failed tilt at the premiership, Johnson was appointed foreign secretary, to widespread disbelief.

When the news broke, I received a text message from my Italian editor. It read: “Your country has gone mad.” It was the first of many similar messages from the Brussels press pack. 

“You know he told a lot of lies to the British people and now it is him who has his back against the wall,” France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said. Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Johnson “outrageous”.

Could Johnson jeopardise the Brexit negotiations?  He can damage them. In November, he was ridiculed by European ministers after telling Italy at a Brussels meeting that it would have to offer tariff-free trade to sell prosecco to the UK.

European Union chiefs moved earlier this week to quell fears they would punish Britain for Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May had threatened to lure investment away from the EU by slashing corporation tax rates in her speech last week.

Juncker and Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, which will chair the first Brexit negotiations, both insisted they was no desire to impose a “punitive deal” on the UK. Donald Tusk compared May’s speech and its “warm words” to Churchill. 

An uneasy peace seemed to have been secured. Enter Boris. 

Asked about comments made by a French aide to President Francois Hollande, he said, "If Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War Two movie, then I don't think that is the way forward.”

The European Parliament will have a vote, and effective veto, on the final Brexit settlement. Its chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt lashed out at Johnson.

“Yet more abhorrent and deeply unhelpful comments from Boris Johnson which PM May should condemn,” he tweeted.

Downing Street wasn’t listening. A spokeswoman said, “There is not a government policy of not talking about the war.”

And just as quickly as it broke out, the new peace was left looking as shaky as ever. 

 

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Trident is dangerous – and not for the reasons you think

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Fixating on Trident is like replacing the guest bathroom while your own toilet flush doesn't work. 

Backing Trident is supposed to make a politician look hard, realistic and committed to Britain’s long history of military defence.That’s why the Tories delighted in holding a debate on renewing the nuclear weapons system in June 2016.

But it was the Tory Prime Minister who floundered this weekend, after it emerged that three weeks before that debate, an unarmed Trident missile misfired - and veered off towards the United States instead of Africa. Downing Street confirmed May knew about the error before the parliamentary debate. 

Trident critics have mobilised. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called the revelation “serious”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longstanding opponent of nuclear weapons, said the error was “pretty catastrophic”. 

The idea of a rogue nuclear missile heading for the White House may have fuelled the disarmament movement. But even if you enjoy the game of nuclear poker, fixating on Trident is dangerous. Because while MPs rehearse the same old Cold War arguments, the rest of the world has moved on. 

Every hour debating Trident is an hour not spent debating cyber warfare. As Peter Pomerantsev prophetically wrote in April 2015, Russian military theory has in recent years assumed that it would not be possible to match the West militarily, but wars can be won in the “psychosphere”, through misinformation.

Since the Russian cyber attacks during the US election, few can doubt this strategy is paying off - and that our defence systems have a long way to catch up. As shadow Defence secretary, Emily Thornberry described this as “the crucial test” of the 21st century. The government has pledged £1.9bn in cyber security defences over the next five years, but will that be enough? Nerds in a back room are not as thrilling as nuclear submarines, but how they are deployed matters too.

Secondly, there is the cost. Even if you back the idea of a nuclear deterrent, renewing Trident is a bit like replacing the guest bathroom when the regular loo is hardly flushing. A 2015 Centreforum paper described it as “gold-plated” - if your idea of gold-plated is the ability to blow up “a minimum of eight cities”. There is a gory but necessary debate to be had about alternatives which could free up more money to be spent on conventional forces. 

Finally, a nuclear deterrent is only credible if you intend to use it. For this reason, the British government needs to focus on protecting the infrastructure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, now under threat from a US President who declared it “obsolete”. Eastern Europe has been nervous about the bear on its borders for some time - the number of Poles joining the country’s 120 paramilitary organisations has tripled in two years.  

Simply attacking Trident on safety grounds will only get you so far - after all, the argument behind renewing Trident is that the status quo will not do. Furthermore, for all the furore over a misfired Trident missile, it’s hard to imagine that should the hour come, the biggest worry for the crew of a nuclear submarine will be the small chance of a missile going in the wrong direction. That would be missing the rather higher chance of global nuclear apocalypse.

Anti-Trident MPs will make the most of May's current embarrassment. But if they can build bridges with the more hawkish members of the opposition, and criticise the government's defence policy on its own terms, they will find plenty more ammunition. 

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19 things wrong with Daniel Hannan’s tweet about the women’s march

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

The crackpot and these women.

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

State of this:

I mean honestly, where do you even begin? Even by Daniel’s rarefied standards of idiocy, this is a stonker. How is it stupid? Let me count the ways.

1. “Our female head of government” implies the existence of “their female head of government”. Which is odd, because the tweet is clearly aimed at Hillary Clinton, who isn’t anybody’s head of government.

Way to kick someone when they’re down, Dan. What next? “So pleased that my daughter received a wide selection of Christmas presents, unlike those of certain families”?

2. I dunno, I’m no expert, but it’s just possible that there are reasons why so few women make it to the top of politics which don’t have anything to do with how marvellous Britain is.

3. Hillary Clinton was not “the last guy’s wife”. You can tell this, because she was not married to Barack Obama, whose wife is called Michelle. (Honestly, Daniel, I’m surprised you haven’t spotted the memes.)

4. She wasn’t married to the guy before him, come to that. Her husband stopped being president 16 years ago, since when she’s been elected to the Senate twice and served four years as Secretary of State.

5. I’m sure Hillary would love to have been able to run for president without reference to her husband – for the first few years of her marriage, indeed, she continued to call herself Hillary Rodham. But in 1980 Republican Frank White defeated Bill Clinton’s campaign to be re-elected as govenor of Arkansas, in part by mercilessly attacking the fact his wife still used her maiden name.

In the three decades since, Hillary has moved from Hillary Rodham, to Hillary Rodham Clinton, to Hillary Clinton. You can see this as a cynical response to conservative pressure, if you so wish – but let’s not pretend there was no pressure to subsume her political identity into that of her husband, eh? And let’s not forget that it came from your side of the fence, eh, Dan?

6. Also, let’s not forget that the woman you’re subtweeting is a hugely intelligent former senator and secretary of state, who Barack Obama described as the most qualified person ever to run for president. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be so patronising as to imply that the only qualification she had was her husband, now, would you?

7. I’d love to know what qualifications Dan thinks are sufficient to become US president, and whether he believes a real estate mogul with an inherited fortune and a reality TV show has them.

8. Hillary Clinton got nearly 3m more votes than Donald Trump, by the way.

9. More votes than any white man who has ever run for president, in fact.

10. Certainly a lot more votes than Theresa May, who has never faced a general election as prime minister and became leader of the government by default after the only other candidate left in the race dropped out. Under the rules of British politics this is as legitimate a way of becoming PM as any, of course, I’m just not sure how winning a Tory leadership contest by default means she “ran in her own right” in a way that Hillary Clinton did not.

11. Incidentally, here’s a video of Daniel Hannan demanding Gordon Brown call an early election in 2009 on the grounds that “parliament has lost the moral mandate to carry on”.

So perhaps expecting him to understand how the British constitution works is expecting too much.

12. Why the hell is Hannan sniping at Hillary Clinton, who is not US president, when the man who is the new US president has, in three days, come out against press freedom, basic mathematics and objective reality? Sorry, I’m not moving past that.

13. Notice the way the tweet says that our “head of government” got there on merit. That’s because our “head of state” got the job because her great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother happened to be a protestant in 1701 and her uncle wanted to marry a divorcee – all of which makes it a bit difficult to say that our head of government “ran in her own right”.  But hey, whatever makes you happy.

14. Is Daniel calling the US a banana republic? I mean, it’s a position I have some sympathy with in this particular week, but it’s an odd fit with the way he gets all hot and bothered whenever someone starts talking about the English-speaking peoples.

15. Incidentally, he stole this tweet from his 14-year-old daughter:

16. Who talks, oddly, like a 45-year-old man.

17. And didn’t even credit her! It’s exactly this sort of thing which stops women making it to the top rank of politics, Daniel.

18. He tweeted that at 6.40am the day after the march. Like, he spent the whole of Saturday trying to come up with a zinger, and then eventually woke up early on the Sunday unable to resist stealing a line from his teenage daughter. One of the great orators of our age, ladies and gentlemen.

19. He thinks he can tweet this stuff without people pointing and laughing at him.

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France’s ‘Little Ben’ matures into Socialist contender

From Europe News. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Leftwinger’s battle with rival Valls will shape the direction of the party

How board games became a billion-dollar business

By Tim Martin from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

A new generation of tabletop games escaped the family table – and fuelled a global industry.

In Birmingham not long ago, I watched a political catastrophe take place. A cabal of academics was clamouring for a liberal manifesto and an anti-capitalist government agenda. The working classes were demanding authoritarian rule with fewer socialist policies. And the ruling party, beset by infighting and resignations, was trying to persuade everyone that it had their interests at heart. It all felt disturbingly familiar – except that these politicians were brightly coloured cartoon drawings, their policies were drawn from a fat deck of cards and the people pulling the strings of government were a young family and a bunch of cheerful twentysomething men in T-shirts.

This was Statecraft, one of hundreds of board and card games on display at the UK Games Expo (UKGE) in Birmingham last summer. Now in its tenth year, UKGE is Britain’s biggest event in the increasingly crowded and profitable world of tabletop gaming and, with its milling crowds, loud music, packed stalls and extraordinary costumes (I spotted Judge Dredd, Deadpool, innumerable Doctors Who and more sorcerers than you could shake a staff at), it felt like a mixture of a trade show, a fan convention and a free-for-all party.

For anyone whose last experience of board games was rainy-day Monopoly and Cluedo, or who has doubts about the place of cardboard in an entertainment landscape dominated by screens, there was no better place to come for a Damascene conversion.

Statecraft’s creator, Peter Blenkharn, a gangly and eloquent 23-year-old with an impressive froth of beard, was in his element. “Our game also has one-party state scenarios,” he explained, brandishing a colourful deck of terrifying political events. “Sectarian violence. Hereditary establishments. An egalitarian society. Each one tweaks the mechanics and the mathematics of the game. There might be a housing crisis, a global pandemic, extremist rallies, a downturn in the economy, and with each you get a choice of how to react.”

Blenkharn is one of many new designers making careers out of the current boom in tabletop gaming. He founded his company, Inside the Box Board Games, with Matthew Usher, a friend from school and Oxford University, and raised £18,000 on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to make their chemistry-themed puzzle game, Molecular. It was manufactured in China and shipped to Blenkharn’s mother’s house, where his family helped to send copies to the game’s backers. Last year, a second Kickstarter campaign for Statecraft made more than twice as much money, prompting Blenkharn to go into the business full-time.

“Publishing your own games is definitely profitable,” Blenkharn told me. “The profit margins are enormous on medium runs, and there’s a huge amount of room for more indie publishers . . . People collect 20, 30 or 40 board games at £20 or £30 a time. You can play with a range of different people. And while video games have a fairly niche age range, as you can see . . .” – he gestured around at the milling crowds – “. . . these games appeal to everyone. The market is exploding.”

The figures appear to support this optimistic prognosis. Last August, the trade analysis magazine ICv2 estimated that the “hobby games” business in 2015 – that is, board and card games produced and sold for a dedicated “gamer” market, rather than toys – was worth $1.2bn in the US and Canada alone. On Kickstarter, where independent designers can gauge interest and take pledges to fund production, tabletop games made six times more money than video games in the first half of 2016.

One of the most startling of these Kickstarter success stories was Exploding Kittens, a simple, Uno-like game illustrated by the creator of a web comic called The Oatmeal. This unassuming deck of cards, crammed with daft cartoons and surreal humour, earned nearly $9m in the month of its crowd-funding campaign, making it the seventh most successful project in Kickstarter’s eight-year history; so far, the only products on the platform to raise more money have been four iterations of the Pebble smart watch, a travel jacket with a built-in neck pillow, a drinks cooler that ices and blends your drinks – and a reprint of another board game, the fantastical (and fantastically expensive) Kingdom Death Monster, which costs $200 for a basic copy and is taking pledges of up to $2,500. It has already raised more than $12m. The figures for other games are scarcely less impressive: a game based on the Dark Souls series of video games, for example, raised £4m in crowd-funding pledges last April.

Touring the aisles of the UKGE, I started to wonder if there was any subject about which someone hadn’t developed a board game. A family was deep in a new edition of Agricola, a German game that involves scratching a living from unforgiving 17th-century farmland. “I’m going to have trouble feeding my child this harvest,” I heard one of the players say. Nearby, two people were settling into Twilight Struggle, a tussle for ideological control set in the Cold War, in which the cards bear forbidding legends such as “Nuclear Subs”, “Kitchen Debates” and “We Will Bury You”.

I spotted three games about managing fast-food chains, one about preparing sushi, one about eating sushi, one about growing chillies and one about foraging mushrooms; I watched sessions of Snowdonia, about building railways in the Welsh mountains, and Mysterium, a Ukrainian game in which a ghost provides dream clues to a team of “psychic investigators” using abstract artwork. A game called Journalist (“‘Where is that promised article?’ roars your boss”) seemed a little close to home.

Spurred by the opportunities of crowd-funding and the market’s enthusiasm for new ideas, a legion of small and part-time designers are turning their hands to tabletop games. I met the Rev Michael Salmon, an Anglican vicar whose football-themed card game Kix, a tense battle between two players with hands of cards representing their teams, has echoes of the Eighties classic Top Trumps. Nearby was Gavin Birnbaum, a London-based driving instructor who designs a game every year and carves them individually from wood in his workshop; 2015’s limited edition from his company, Cubiko, was Fog of War, in which perfect little tanks crept around a board of wooden hexagons, zapping each other.

Perhaps the most impressive prior CV belonged to Commander Andrew Benford, who developed his hidden-movement game called They Come Unseen beneath the waves in the Seventies while serving on Royal Navy subs. Sold at UKGE in a snazzy cardboard version by the war games company Osprey, it had come a long way from the “heavily engineered board covered with thick Perspex and secured to an aluminium board” that the nuclear engineers prepared for the original. Benford, now retired, was already thinking about an expansion.

This surge in innovation has also made these interesting times for established creators. Reiner Knizia, one of the best-known names in board games, told me, “There are enormous changes in our times, in our world, and this is reflected in the games. It’s wonderful for a creative mind.” Knizia is a German mathematician who quit a career in finance to become a full-time designer in 1997. His interest in games began in his childhood, when he repurposed money from Monopoly sets to devise new trading games, and he now has more than 600 original games to his credit.

Knizia’s games are frequently remarkable for a single innovative twist. In Tigris and Euphrates, a competitive tile-laying game set in the Mesopotamian fertile crescent, players compete to win points in several different colours, but their final score is calculated not on their biggest pile but their smallest. His licensed game for the Lord of the Rings series developed a method for co-operative adventure – players collaborate to win the game, rather than playing against each other – that has become a separate genre in the 17 years since its release.

But Knizia is no doctrinaire purist. The design experiments he conducts from his studio in Richmond, London (“I have 80 drawers, and in each drawer I have a game, but no sane person can work on 80 products at the same time”), embrace new methods and unusual technologies – smartphones, ultraviolet lamps – in their pursuit of what he calls “a simple game that is not simplistic”. When I mentioned the assumption common in the Nineties that board games would be dead by the millennium, he raised an eyebrow. “That clearly wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “Just as if you said travelling would die out because you could see everything live on television. There are basic needs of human beings: to socialise with other people, to explore things, to be curious, to have fun. These categories will stay. It doesn’t mean that we have to have printed cardboard and figures to move around: we might lay out a screen and download the board on to the screen. The act of playing, and of what we do in the game, will stay,
because it is in our nature.”

This question of the appropriate shape for board games – and how they are to utilise or shun the glowing screens that follow us everywhere – is one that many game designers are asking. Later in the summer, I had the chance to play the second edition of a game called Mansions of Madness, a reworking of an infamously complex board game based on the work of the horror writer H P Lovecraft. In its original incarnation, players navigated a series of terrifying colonial mansions, encountering monsters and events that needed to be drawn from piles of pieces and decks of cards by a human opponent. Like many games that involve huge numbers of interacting decisions, the first edition was a horror of its own to manage: the set-up took an eternity and one false move or misapplied card could ruin an entire game. For the second edition, its publishers, Fantasy Flight Games, streamlined the process – by handing over responsibility for running the game to an app for smartphones and tablets.

“To some, I’m the great Satan for doing that,” Christian T Petersen, the CEO of Fantasy Flight, told me when we discussed the integration of apps and games. “There was a portion of the gaming community that resisted it for various reasons: some on the basis that they didn’t want a screen in their lives, some on the basis of interesting thought-experiments that if they were to bring their game out 50 years from now, would the software be relevant or even possible to play? Maybe it won’t. I don’t even know if some of these inks that we have will last 50 years.”

Also a designer, Petersen was vigorous in his defence of the possibilities of mixed-media board gaming. “We’re trying to use technology to make the interface of games more fun,” he said. “Too much integration and you’ll say, ‘Why am I playing a board game? I might as well be playing a computer game.’ Too little and you’ll say, ‘Why is it even here?’ But I believe there’s a place in the middle where you’re using software to enhance the relevance of what this can be as a board game. We’re still experimenting.”

Other experiments have gone in different directions. The program Tabletop Simulator, released in 2015, is a video game platform that represents tabletop games in a multiplayer 3D space. Players can create their own modules (there are hundreds available, many of them no doubt infringing the copyright of popular board games) and play them online together. A recent update even added support for VR headsets.

While designers debate the future of the medium, tabletop gaming has been creeping out of enthusiasts’ territory and into wider cultural life. In Bristol, one evening last summer, I stopped by the marvellously named Chance & Counters, which had recently opened on the shopping street of Christmas Steps. It is a board game café – like Draughts in east London, Thirsty Meeples in Oxford and Ludorati in Nottingham – where customers pay a cover charge (£4 per head, or £50 for a year’s “premium membership”) to play while eating or drinking. The tables have special rings to hold your pint away from the board; the staff read the rule books and teach you the games.

“When I was growing up,” explained Steve Cownie, one of the three owners of Chance & Counters, “board games were associated with family time: playing Monopoly at Christmas and shouting at each other. Now, it’s been repositioned as a way for young professionals, students, just about anyone, to spend time with each other. It’s a guided social interaction, where there’s a collective task or a collective competition.”

There is barely a smartphone in the place. “People aren’t sitting around checking Face­book,” agrees Cownie. “They’re looking each other in the eye, competing or co-operating. It’s amazing to see, really.”

A board games café is an odd social experience but a compelling one. Before taking our seats at Chance & Counters, my companion and I were ushered by a waiter towards a wall of games that ran down the side of the building, past tables of other people bent in rapt concentration or howling in riotous disagreement over rules. “Would you like something light?” he asked. “Something heavy? Something silly? Something strategic?” The rows of gleaming boxes stretched out before us. Somewhere in there, I knew, was exactly the game we wanted to play. 

GRAHAM TURNER/GUARDIAN NEWS & MEDIA

Was this Apple Tree Yard sex scene written by a sexually frustrated politician?

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

No mortal can resist the Chapel in the Crypt.

After much anticipation, the BBC’s Apple Tree Yard, an adaptation of Louise Doughty’s novel, aired last night. Newspapers had whispered excitedly over its opening sex scenes – the Sun exclaimed that this would be “the most explicit bonkbuster yet” (whatever that means), as the first episode would have more than five minutes of graphic sex throughout, in locations as varied as a toilet and an alleyway.

But the most toe-curling scenes of all occurred in a grander location – Westminster Palace. Dr Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson) meets a tall, dark and handsome stranger after giving evidence on genomes to the government (as all politics nerds know, there is nothing sexier than a select committee meeting.) What follows feels like the erotic fanfiction of a political hack who has spent far too much time at the Houses of Parliament.

They “run into each other” in the canteen, and flirt in Westminster Hall. Yvonne is about to leave - then our politico stranger brings out the big guns. Yep, the alpha move of all Westminster workers and tour guides. Here it comes.

Pow. No mortal can resist the Chapel in the Crypt. As he runs off to get the keys, Yvonne’s loser husband Gary texts her.

Ugh, boring Gary, sat at home sniffling. You can just tell from a text like that that Gary has never been to the Houses of Parliament. Gary refers to the whole palace as “Big Ben”. Gary’s never even heard of the Chapel in the Crypt.

Not like this bloody Keeper of the Keys.

So in they go to the chapel, handsome stranger smoothly remarking that you can get married in here, because, as he knows, weddings are basically porn to women (seeing as they don’t watch actual porn). The sexual tension is palpable as he deploys facts about royal peculiars, Oliver Cromwell’s horses and Lord Chamberlain.

Yvonne gets dust on her coat, and our man hands her a handkerchief, because he really knows what he’s doing.

If you’ve ever been to the Chapel in the Crypt, you know what’s coming next. “That’s not the best bit,” says the stranger, walking over to a cupboard at the back. Yes, here comes the pièce de résistance, the sexual cherry on top of this weird fucking cake. “You’ve come this far,” he says lightly, but he knows this is the point of no return: if Yvonne sees this next reveal she will surely be a lost woman.

They creep into the cupboard, where he shows here the back of the door. YES, IT’S THE TONY BENN EMILY WILDING DAVISON PLAQUE!!!!!!!!!!!!

In one fell swoop, this complete stranger has persuaded a beautiful woman to climb into a dark and secret broom cupboard with him, whilst he simultaneously shows off his feminist credentials. He even explains who this iconic feminist was to Yvonne. A man showing off a plaque, made by another man to commemorate a dead Suffragette, to a woman. I have literally never seen anything more feminist in my fucking life.

And then, of course, they bang, right in front of the plaque. Did Emily Wilding Davison die for this? Probably.

It brings a tear to one’s eye. Undoubtedly this is the perfect British politics geek’s sex scene, and I, for one, applaud the BBC for this brave and stunning work.

BBC

Efficacy of Mindfulness Meditation for Smoking Cessation

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

This review synthesizes randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of mindfulness meditation (MM) interventions for smoking cessation.

Romanians protest against plans to weaken graft laws

From Europe News. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

President joins demonstration against draft decrees on decriminalisation

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

By Anthony Clavane from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

Anthony Clavane's A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse is published by Riverrun

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Is the French Left having its Jeremy Corbyn moment?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Benoit Hamon won the first round of the Socialist party's presidential primaries. 

Has the French Left taken a Corbynite turn? That's certainly the verdict of many after the first round of the French Socialist Party's primary.

In first place is Benoit Hamon, who quit Francois Hollande's government over its right turn in 2014, and counts the adoption of a universal basic income, the legalisation of cannabis and the right to die among his policy proposals, with 36 per cent of the vote.

In second place and facing an uphill battle to secure the nomination is Manuel Valls, the minister who more than any other symbolized the rightward lurch of Hollande's presidency, with 31 per cent. That of the five eliminated candidates - under the French system, if no candidate secures more than half of the vote, the top two go through to a run-off round - only one could even arguably be said to be closer to Valls than Hamon shows the struggle he will have to close the gap next weekend. And for a variety of reasons, even supporters of his close ally Sylvia Pinel may struggle to put a tick in his box. 

Still, Valls clearly believes that electability is his best card, and he's compared Hamon to Corbyn, who "chose to remain in opposition". Also making the Hamon-Corbyn comparison is most of the British press and several high-profile activists in the French Republican Party.

Is it merited? The differences are probably more important than the similarities: not least that Hamon served as a minister until 2014, and came up through the backrooms. In terms of the centre of gravity and the traditions of his party, he is much closer in analogue to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham than he is to Jeremy Corbyn, though Corbynistas and Hamonites bear a closer resemblance to one another than their leaders to.

What will give heart to the leader's office is that Hamon surged in the polls after each debate, when his ideas were given a bigger platform. But what will alarm everyone in Labour is the French Socialists' poll ratings - they are expected to get just 6 per cent in the elections. (And before you scoff at the polls, it's worth noting that they have, so far, performed admirably in the French electoral cycle, picking up on the lightning rise of both Hamon and Francois Fillon.)

That attests to something it's easy to forget in Westminster, where we tend to obsess over the United States and ignore politics on the Continent, despite the greater commonalities: throughout Europe, social democratic parties are in a fight for their lives, no matter if they turn to the left or the right.

The Democrats, in contrast, won the presidential election by close to three million votes and lost due to the electoral college. They have good prospects in the midterm elections and their greatest threat is gerrymandering and electoral malfeasance. But absent foul play, you'd have to be very, very brave to bet on them going extinct.

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The Struggle for the Soul of American Foreign Policy Has Begun

By Hal Brands from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

What was that brutal indictment offered by French President Jacques Chirac in response to American inaction in addressing the Bosnia crisis in the mid-1990s? “The position of leader of the free world is vacant.” A great many people around the world probably felt that way on January 20, 2017. The title “leader of the free world” is ...

Light Attack: Removing the Veil on OA-X

By Mike Pietrucha from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

There has been a recent flurry of press attention on OA-X, an Air Force effort to obtain off-the-shelf light attack aircraft.  Sen. McCain’s recent publication of Restoring American Power — which calls for the Air Force to acquire 300 light attack aircraft — will no doubt intensify interest in the idea, with many constituencies trying ...

Improving Employment Prospects for Soldiers Leaving the Regular Army

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Discusses the results of a new approach to develop an improved crosswalk between Army military occupational specialties (MOSs) and civilian occupations, highlighting ten of the Army's most populous combat and noncombat MOSs.

Helping Soldiers Leverage Army Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities in Civilian Jobs

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

Discusses the results of occupation surveys administered to soldiers in ten of the most populous Army military occupational specialties (MOSs) to develop improved crosswalks between military and civilian occupations.

The industrial strategy acknowledges a fundamental truth about growth

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 23, 2017.

It's time for the government to recognise that private businesses need help to thrive. 

When Theresa May created a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy after taking office last summer, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Industrial strategy, it was widely remarked, was something attempted by the Labour governments of the 1960s and 70s – and it had dismally failed. British Leyland, Concorde and Delorean were the dead proof that governments were useless at "picking winners" and shouldn’t attempt to. What was the new Prime Minister thinking? 

A few commentators did observe that the concept of industrial strategy had in fact been revived at the end of the Labour government and in the early years of the Coalition. Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson had successfully revived the motor industry in 2009-10 and initiated a new offshore wind manufacturing sector; Vince Cable and David Willetts had identified key manufacturing growth sectors and established new support systems for innovation. But they also pointed out that this had been largely abandoned by the next Business Minister, Sajid Javid, and was never embraced by David Cameron or George Osborne. 

So what did May mean? We are about to find out, when the government publishes its green paper on industrial strategy today. 

Among economic and business commentators, it has been widely assumed that this will again largely be about government support to manufacturing industry, particularly in the field of research and development. This is after all where the orthodox theory of "market failure" acknowledges that government intervention may be warranted. 

But this expectation is wrong. Under Business secretary Greg Clark, the government is taking a much wider approach. In fact the green paper will start from two far-reaching observations about the British economy.

First, take the UK’s low rate of productivity. This is not primarily a problem of the major firms in our remaining manufacturing industries. It is instead rooted in the small and medium-sized businesses in the service sectors, which employ 84 per cent of the British workforce. These are characterised by systematic under-investment in new technologies. 

Second, this is compounded by the huge disparity in productivity across the UK’s nations and regions. While London has the highest output per head of any region in Western Europe, more than a quarter of the UK’s regions rank among the lowest. Only if productivity is raised everywhere can it be raised in the UK as a whole. And only if productivity is raised, can wages be increased. So this is crucial to any attempt to help those "left behind" or "just about managing". 

The green paper will therefore make it clear, as IPPR has argued, that industrial strategy is not just about galvanising R&D and brand new innovation – though this is certainly important. It is about stimulating the much more widespread adoption of new technologies in all businesses - the service sector too. And it is not just about high-tech companies in the UK’s golden triangle between London, Cambridge and Oxford. It must happen in every region and nation of the country

In other words, the government looks likely to accept a vital truth - that industrial strategy is not a single strand of policy, but an approach to economic policy in general. It involves a fundamental recognition that firms and markets left to their own devices do not necessarily generate the optimum results for society as a whole.

Firms under-invest; they do not always adopt the most efficient technologies; they cannot on their own achieve the benefits of clustering together in regional centres; their investors’ horizons may be too short termist; they need infrastructure, skills, planning and other public policies to be aligned; they need to be encouraged to locate outside the existing growth centres. 

In other words, industrial strategy acknowledges that wealth is co-produced by the private and public sectors working together, and successful economies need both.

The chief theoretician of this understanding in recent years has been the economist Mariana Mazzucato, who has argued that the best way of driving investment in innovation is for government to set "missions" to address major social challenges. Just as the US moonshot programme generated innovation in a wide range of sectors, so modern missions such as decarbonisation, meeting the health and social care needs of an ageing population and the housing shortage can galvanise a new wave today. The government can use both "demand-side" policies (such as energy policy and procurement) and "supply-side" policies (such as in infrastructure and skills) to promote private sector investment.

In Britain industrial strategy has always been thought to be a left of centre economic idea, because it requires an active role for government. The Telegraph and Mail will no doubt tell Mrs May this week that it is all very misguided. But this is not how the rest of the world sees it. The most successful economies – Germany, Japan, South Korea, the Scandinavians – all work on the basis of public-private partnership to maximise productivity and achieve better distributed growth. All of them have higher productivity, and lower regional disparities, than the UK.

Yet there remain real question marks hanging over the government’s approach. Will the Chancellor cough up? A strategy with no money will be stillborn at birth. In particular, will sufficient resources and powers be given to regional institutions to support long-term economic growth outside London? Shifting the geographic pattern of investment will ultimately be the key test of the strategy’s success. 

The Business secretary is known to favour "deals" with industry to deliver the strategy, in the manner of the "devolution deals" with local government he developed in his previous Cabinet role. But will these be properly transparent, as the agreement which kept Nissan in Britain in the autumn was not? Will they simply favour the best business lobbyists, or can they represent a real compact of mutual obligations between public and private sectors?

The government has already acknowledged that it needs to recruit overseas negotiators to do new trade deals. It could usefully employ some outside experts to help with industrial strategy too. A good test of its commitment to strengthening public sector capacity is whether the government continue with its crazy sell-off of the Green Investment Bank

Ultimately, the key question may be whether the strategy will outlast Clark, who is probably the only Heseltinian member of the Cabinet beyond Mrs May who really believes in it. Labour’s Shadow Minister Clive Lewis, who has been talking intelligently about industrial strategy and has recently launched his own consultation, is no doubt already sharpening his critique. 

For the Prime Minister, the rationale for industrial strategy is clear. As it goes through the trauma of Brexit, the British economy will need to be seriously strengthened. We are about to see whether she can deliver it. 

Michael Jacobs is the Director of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice and co-editor of Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth (Wiley Blackwell 2016). 

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Despite show of unity, there is much that still divides insurgent parties

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Popular vote likely in April after parliament backs constitutional changes

If you think Spielberg can't do women, you're missing his point about men

By Tom Shone from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 22, 2017.

Donning her Freudian hat, Molly Haskell uses her new book to explore Steven Spielberg's attitude to women. But is his real target masculinity?

Few great film directors are as picked on as Steven Spielberg. For a large segment of the cineaste population, a liking for Spielberg over, say, Martin Scorsese is like preferring McCartney to Lennon, or Hockney to Bacon – a sign of an aesthetic sweet tooth, an addiction to flimsy, childlike fantasy over grit, darkness, ambiguity, fibre and all the other things we are taught are good for us in film-crit class. I once suggested to a scowling Sight & Sound reader that while a director such as Stanley Kubrick might be the epitome of the aesthetic will to power – bending the medium to do the master’s bidding – Spielberg’s work was the place you looked to see the medium of cinema left to its own devices: what it gets up to in its free time. The look of disgust on his face was immediate. Conversation over. I might as well have told him I still sucked my thumb.

Partly this is down to his outsized success, which sits ill at ease with our notion of the artist. This is wrong-headed when applied to the movies in general, but particularly when applied to someone such as Spielberg, athletically slam-dunking one box office record after another in the first half of his career, before morphing in the second half, greedily bent on acquiring the credibility that is naturally accorded to the likes of Scorsese, the auteur agonistes, tearing films from his breast like chunks of flesh while wandering in the Hollywood wilderness. Never mind that Scorsese’s reputation for speaking to the human condition rests on his mining of a narrow strip of gangland and the male psyche. Spielberg is a people-pleaser and nothing attracts bullies more.

The film critic Molly Haskell was among the first to kick sand in the director’s face, writing in the Village Voice of Jaws, upon its release in 1975, that she felt “like a rat being given shock treatment”. If you want a quick laugh, the early reviews of Jaws are a good place to start. A “coarse-grained and exploitative work that depends on excess for impact”, wrote one critic. “A mind-numbing repast for sense-sated gluttons”, wrote another. Interviews with Spielberg at the time make him sound as if he is halfway between the Mad magazine mascot, Alfred E Neuman, and a velociraptor: thumbs twitching over his Atari paddle, synapses synced to the rhythms of TV, his head firmly planted in the twilight zone. Who knew that this terrifying creature would one day turn 70 and stand as the reassuring epitome of classical Hollywood storytelling, with his status as a box office titan becoming a little rusty? The BFG did OK but Lincoln came “this close” to going straight to the small screen, the director said recently.

The timing is therefore perfect for an overdue critical reconsideration of his work, and Haskell would seem to be the perfect person for the job. For one thing, she never really liked his work. “I had never been an ardent fan,” she writes in her new book Steven Spielberg: a Life in Films. A card-carrying member of the Sixties cinephile generation – a lover of the brooding ambiguities, unresolved longings and sexual realpolitik found in Robert Altman, John Cassavetes and Paul Mazursky – she instinctively recoiled from the neutered, boys’ own adventure aspect of Spielberg.

“In grappling with Spielberg I would be confronting my own resistance,” she writes. This is a great recipe for a work of criticism, as Carl Wilson proved with his mould-shattering book about learning to love Céline Dion, Let’s Talk About Love: a Journey to the End of Taste. More critics should be locked in a room with things that they hate. Prejudice plus honesty is fertile ground.

But the problem with Haskell’s book is that she hasn’t revised her opinion much. Sure, she grants that nowadays Jaws looks like a “humanist gem” when compared with the blockbusters that it helped spawn, but she still finds it mechanical and shallow – “primal but not particularly complex” – catering to “an escalating hunger for physical thrills and instant gratification”.

But how sweet! Remember instant gratification? It must be up there with Pong and visible bra straps: the great bogeymen of the moral majority in the early Seventies. The dustiness persists. Donning her Freudian hat, Haskell finds “three versions of insecurity” in the three male leads of Jaws. “Lurking behind their Robert-Bly-men-around-the-campfire moment is that deeper and more generalised adolescent dread of the female.”

Haskell is on to something, but only if you turn it 180 degrees. What is critiqued in Jaws is precisely the masculinity that she claims sets the film’s Robert Bly-ish ideological agenda. Refusing to cast Charlton Heston in his film because he seemed too heroic, Spielberg chose as his heroes a physical coward, afraid of the water, fretting over his appendectomy scar, and a Jewish intellectual, crushing his styrofoam cup in a sarcastic riposte to Robert Shaw’s bare-chested Hemingway act. Throughout the film and his career, Spielberg sets up machismo as a lumbering force to be outmanoeuvred by the nimble and quick-witted. His films are badminton, not tennis. Their signature mood is one of buoyancy; his jokes are as light as air. He’s a king of the drop shot.

Not insignificantly, he was raised largely by and with women. His father was always at work and was later “disowned” by Spielberg for his lack of involvement. Together with his three sisters, he was brought up by a mother who doted on her hyperactive son, driving Jeeps in his home movies and writing notes to get him out of school. She “big-sistered us”, he said. A version of this feminised cocoon was later recreated on the set of ET the Extra-Terrestrial, where Spielberg brought together the screenwriter Melissa Mathison and the producer Kathleen Kennedy to help midwife a film that, as Martin Amis once wrote ,“unmans you with the frailty of your own defences”.

On ET, again, Haskell hasn’t changed her opinion much. Its ending is still, in her view, “squirmingly overlong”, while the protagonist Elliott seems suspiciously “cleansed of perverse longings and adult desires, stuck in pre-adolescence”. It might be countered that Elliott is only ten years old and therefore not “stuck” in pre-adolescence at all, but simply in it – but this would run counter to the air of gimlet-eyed sleuthing struck by Haskell as she proceeds through the canon. Indiana Jones is an emblem of “threatened masculinity” whose scholar and adventurer sides “coexist without quite meshing”. (Isn’t that a good thing in a secret alter ego?)

Spielberg is “in flight” from women – he can only do hot mums, tomboys and shrieking sidekicks: “Spielberg was no misogynist. It was just that he liked guy stuff more.” It’s a trick she repeats: seeming to defend him from the charge of misogyny while leaving the charge hanging in the air. “Misogyny may be the wrong word. One rarely feels hatred of women in Spielberg but rather different shades of fear and mistrust.” If it’s the wrong word, there is no reason for Haskell to feature it so prominently in her book.

Having examined her own prejudices with insufficient candour, Haskell leaves his career largely as those first-wave critics found it: the early work facile and “mechanical” until Spielberg “grew up” and made Schindler’s List. Her biggest deviation from this narrative is that she thinks Empire of the Sun, not Schindler’s List, is his greatest film. This is a shame. The narrative could easily be upended. That early quartet of his – Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET – stands as one of the great glories of pop classicism, a feat for which Spielberg was unjustly chastised, forcing him to retreat into “prestigious” historical recreation and middlebrow “message” pictures: films with their eyes on not so much an Academy Award as the Nobel Peace Prize. Lincoln plays like the creation of a director who has worked extremely hard to remove his fingerprints from the film and is all the more boring for it.

In the book’s final furlong, covering the 2000s, Haskell finds purpose. She is surely right to defend AI Artificial Intelligence from the wags who claimed that it had “the heart of Kubrick and the intellect of Spielberg”. All the sentimental parts that people assumed were Spielberg’s were in reality Kubrick’s and all the pessimistic stuff was Spielberg’s. As Orson Welles once said, the only difference between a happy ending and an unhappy ending is where you stop the story.

The roller-coaster lurches of Spielberg in the Nineties – when he alternated Oscar-winners such as Schindler’s List with popcorn fodder such as Jurassic Park – have stabilised and synthesised into something much more tonally interesting: the mixture of ebullience and melancholy in Catch Me If You Can, of dread and excitement in Minority Report and Munich. The ending of Bridge of Spies is among the most sublime final scenes in the director’s work: entirely wordless, like all the best Spielberg moments, it shows a Norman Rockwell-esque tableau of the returning hero, Tom Hanks, flopping down on to his bed, exhausted, while his family sits downstairs, too glued to the TV set to notice. When aliens finally land and want to know what it is the movies do – what the medium is for – there could be worse places to start.

Tom Shone is the author of “Blockbuster: How the Jaws and Jedi Generation Turned Hollywood into a Boom-Town” (Scribner)

Steven Spielberg: a Life in Films by Molly Haskell is published by Yale University Pres,( 224pp, £16.99 )

MURRAY CLOSE/GETTY IMAGES

ECB steps up warning on euro clearing after Brexit

From Europe News. Published on Jan 22, 2017.

Central bank suggests that EU oversight may increase over the trade after break-up

France’s socialists vote for presidential candidate

From Europe News. Published on Jan 22, 2017.

First round of primary will decide deeply unpopular party’s future orientation

Brexit clash ahead as UK Supreme Court rules

From Europe News. Published on Jan 22, 2017.

Devolution issues cloud legal row over whether Theresa May must hold parliamentary vote

Despite new challengers, Andrew Marr is still the king of the Sunday-morning politics skirmish

By Roger Mosey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 22, 2017.

The year began with a strong challenge from Sophy Ridge, who scored a coup with her Theresa May interview. By week two, though, the normal order was restored.

The BBC can declare at least one victory for its news division in 2017. In what was dubbed “the battle of the bongs”, ITV’s regrettable decision to shift the News at Ten to 10.30pm for a couple of months this year in favour of a new entertainment show means that the corporation’s flagship bulletin will be once more unchallenged. But the war among the UK’s television channels has shifted to new territory: now it’s Sunday-morning sofa skirmishes.

This year began with the equivalent of ravens leaving the Tower. The Prime Minister’s New Year interview, cherished for decades by David Frost and then by Andrew Marr, migrated from the BBC to Sky News. It was a coup for Sophy Ridge, whose new show marks the arrival of a woman into what had previously been male territory. It intensified the pressure on the BBC after the blow last year of the defection of Robert Peston to ITV, lured by the promise of his own show to rival Marr’s.

By week two, though, the normal order was restored. The biggest interviewee, Jeremy Corbyn, was on The Andrew Marr Show and his lieutenants John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry were deployed on Sky and ITV. These things matter because the Sunday-morning political programmes often generate the headlines for the rest of the day’s broadcasting and for the Monday papers; and the commercial companies want to dent the BBC’s reputation for setting the agenda. The corporation can often do it by the sheer volume of its output on TV, including the estimable Sunday Politics, and on radio; but it’s a plus for audiences if other voices can be heard.

The Andrew Marr Show has traditionally secured the A-list guests because it has by far the highest ratings. Its most powerful asset is Marr, who was a transformative political editor for the BBC and possesses, as New Statesman readers know, an original and free-thinking take on the issues of the day. The energy in the programme comes from him but he is not helped by a staid production: a predictable format, a set with a London skyline and a superannuated sofa. There aren’t many laughs. The review of the papers has become cumbersome with the addition of a statutory Brexiteer, and the supposed light relief is supplied by arts plugging of the kind that seems mandatory in every BBC News programme. We are invited, wherever we are in the UK, to pop along to the West End to see the latest production involving the actor-interviewee of the day. However, if there is a new political line to be found, Marr is the most likely to sniff it out.

By contrast, Peston on Sunday seems to have consumed a lot of fizzy drinks. It is sharp and contemporary-looking and it bounces along, thanks to the interplay between Peston and his sidekick, Allegra Stratton. It is more willing to take risks, as in the entertainingly acidic recent exchanges between Piers Morgan and Alastair Campbell, and it works as a piece of television even if it doesn’t have the top guests. It merits its repeat in the evening, when it gains a bigger audience than in the live transmission.

Guests may be more crucial to the success of Sophy Ridge on Sunday. It looks lovely in its sparkling new studio, but the prime ministerial scoop of the launch show was followed by an interview with Nigel Farage and a dull encounter with a union official. There is a commendable attempt to get out of London and to hear from the public, and it’s refreshing to locate an MP such as Tom Watson in a West Bromwich café. The programme is also trying to book more women interviewees, and one paper review featured a token man; but can it be a must-watch for news junkies or entertaining enough for a casual viewer?

There is only so much that producers can do to lure the right guests. If you meet any broadcaster these days, they immediately gripe about the attempts by Downing Street to control who appears where – which has been applied with particular vigour under the May administration: hence Boris Johnson recently appearing as duty minister on both Marr and Peston on the same morning, which neither channel finds ideal.

There is a trap, in that obtaining quotesfor the rest of the media is only part of the remit. In these uncertain political times, audiences need knowledge, too, and an interview that merely zips through the news lines of the day may add little to our understanding of policy and the choices faced by government. All of these shows feature presenters with formidable brainpower and it is perfectly possible to meld that into a programme that is worth watching.

Peston’s show makes an attempt with Stratton’s big screen to provide context and statistics, but it could do more – and it might painlessly lose some of the witless tweets that pass for interaction. It’s a further conundrum of television that Marr’s most interesting takes on current issues are often in his documentaries or writing rather than on his eponymous show. The guardians of impartiality may twitch, but viewers would benefit from him being given more freedom.

There is the rest of the world to consider, too. It was striking on a Sunday just ahead of the inauguration of Donald Trump that none of these shows had a major American player. While Michel Barnier was making the news in the weekend papers, no decision-maker from the EU was featured, either. This is not a phenomenon of Brexit: television has always found it easier to plonk a bottom on a sofa in SW1 than to engage in the long-term wooing that gets significant international guests. Yet, as we are allegedly preparing to launch ourselves into the wider world, hearing from its key decision-makers is part of the enlightenment we need, too.

Roger Mosey is the master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and a former head of BBC Television news

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Europe’s rightwing politicians gather in Koblenz

From Europe News. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

Party leaders predict an insurrectionary “patriotic spring” in Europe

Gambia’s dictator hangs on even as Senegal’s army crosses the border

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

DEPENDING on whom one speaks to, it was either an act of war or a map-reading error. When troops from neighbouring Senegal massed on the Gambian border this week—poised to force out Gambia’s dictator, Yahya Jammeh—reports emerged on Thursday night that they had already crossed the frontier. In fact, according to diplomats, they had merely misprogrammed their GPS navigator, and had strayed over the undulating, unmarked border by mistake.

The world’s first “invasion by Sat Nav error”? Or just a deliberate “mistake” to put the wind up Mr Jammeh? Nobody really knows. Although West Africa’s regional power bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), may not be as slick as the Pentagon when it comes to military manoeuvres, its calm stewardship of this week’s crisis in Gambia has won it many admirers.

When Mr Jammeh reneged on his pledge to step down after losing elections in December to Adama Barrow, it seemed the tiny west African nation was about to go back to a time when leaders ignored election results with little fear of consequences. These days, though, the region prides itself as being one of the...Continue reading

The West can never hope to understand Islamic State

By Tom Holland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

Graeme Wood's The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State reminds us of something that ought to be obvious: Islamic State is very Islamic.

The venue for the declaration of the “Islamic State” had been carefully chosen. The Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul was a fitting location for the restoration of a “caliphate” pledged to the destruction of its enemies. It was built in 1172 by Nur al-Din al-Zengi, a warrior famed for his victories over the Crusaders. When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ascended the pulpit in July 2014 and proclaimed his followers to be “the backbone of the camp of faith and the spearhead of its trench”, he was consciously following in Nur al-Din’s footsteps. The message could not have been clearer. The Crusaders were back and needed defeating.

Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future. In Islamic State’s propaganda, they certainly are. Sayings attributed to Muhammad that foretold how the armies of Islam would defeat the armies of the Cross serve their ideologues as a hall of mirrors. What happened in the Crusades is happening now; and what happens now foreshadows what is to come.

The Parisian concert-goers murdered at the Bataclan theatre in 2015 were as much Crusaders as those defeated by Nur al-Din in the 12th century – and those slaughters prefigure a final slaughter at the end of days. When the propagandists of Islamic State named their English-language magazine Dabiq, they were alluding to a small town in Syria that – so they proclaim – will at last bring the Crusades to an end. Every issue is headed with the same exultant vaunt. “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the Crusader armies in Dabiq.”

How much does Islamic State actually believe this stuff? The assumption that it is a proxy for other concerns – born of US foreign policy, or social deprivation, or Islamophobia – comes naturally to commentators in the West. Partly this is because their instincts are often secular and liberal; partly it reflects a proper concern not to tar mainstream Islam with the brush of terrorism.

Unsurprisingly, the first detailed attempt to take Islamic State at its word ruffled a lot of feathers. Graeme Wood’s article “What Isis really wants” ran in the Atlantic two years ago and turned on its head the reassuring notion that the organisation’s motivation was anything that Western policy­makers could readily comprehend.

“The reality is,” Wood wrote, “that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic.” The strain of the religion that it was channelling derived “from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam” and was fixated on two distinct moments of time: the age of Muhammad and the end of days long promised in Muslim apocalyptic writings. Members of Islamic State, citing the Quran and sayings attributed to the Prophet in their support, believe themselves charged by God with expediting the end of days. It is their mandate utterly to annihilate kufr: disbelief. The world must be washed in blood, so that the divine purpose may be fulfilled. The options for negotiating this around a table at Geneva are, to put it mildly, limited.

In The Way of the Strangers, Wood continues his journey into the mindset of Islamic State’s enthusiasts. As he did in the Atlantic, he scorns “the belief that when a jihadist tells you he wants to kill you and billions of others to bring about the end of the world, he is just speaking for effect”. Although not a report from the “caliphate”, it still comes from front lines: the restaurants of Melbourne, the suburbs of Dallas, the cafés of Ilford. Wood’s concern is less with the circumstances in Syria and Iraq that gave birth to Islamic State than with those cocooned inside stable and prosperous societies who have travelled to join it. What persuades them to abandon the relative comforts of the West for a war zone? How can they possibly justify acts of grotesque violence? Is killing, for them, something
incidental, or a source of deep fulfilment?

These are questions that sociologists, psychologists and security experts have all sought to answer. Wood, by asking Islamic State’s sympathisers to explain their motivation, demonstrates how Western society has become woefully unqualified to recognise the ecstatic highs that can derive from apocalyptic certitude. “The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State,” he observes, “is belied by a crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight.”

Anyone who has studied the literature of the First Crusade will recognise the sentiment. The conviction, popular since at least the Enlightenment, that crusading was to be explained in terms of almost anything except religion has increasingly been put
to bed. Crusaders may indeed have travelled to Syria out of a lust for adventure, or loot, or prospects denied to them at home; but that even such worldly motivations were saturated in apocalyptic expectations is a perspective now widely accepted. “Men went on the First Crusade,” as Marcus Bull put it, “for reasons that were overwhelmingly ideological.”

The irony is glaring. The young men who travel from western Europe to fight in Syria for Islamic State – and thereby to gain paradise for themselves – are following in the footsteps less of Nur al-Din than of the foes they are pledged to destroy: the Crusaders.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, who revolutionised the study of the Crusades as a penitential movement, once wrote an essay titled “Crusading as an Act of Love”. Wood, in his attempt to understand the sanguinary idealism of Islamic State sympathisers, frequently echoes its phrasing. In Alexandria, taken under the wing of Islamists and pressed to convert, he recognises in their importunities an urgent longing to spare him hellfire, to win him paradise. “Their conversion efforts could still be described, for all their intolerance and hate, as a mission of love.”

Later, in Norway, he meets with a white-haired Islamist to whom the signs of the impending Day of Judgement are so palpable that he almost sobs with frustration at Wood’s failure to open his eyes to them. “To Abu Aisha, my stubbornness would have been funny if it were not tragic. He looked ready to grab me with both hands to try to shake me awake. Were these signs – to say nothing of the perfection of the Quran, and the example of the Prophet – not enough to rouse me from the hypnosis of kufr?”

Wood does not, as Shiraz Maher did in his recent study Salafi-Jihadism, attempt to provide a scholarly survey of the intellectual underpinnings of Islamic State; but as an articulation of the visceral quality of the movement’s appeal and the sheer colour and excitement with which, for true believers, it succeeds in endowing the world, his book is unrivalled. When he compares its utopianism to that of the kibbutzim movement, the analogy is drawn not to cause offence but to shed light on why so many people from across the world might choose to embrace such an austere form of communal living. When he listens to British enthusiasts of Islamic State, he recognises in their descriptions of it a projection of “their idealised roseate vision of Britain”. Most suggestively, by immersing himself in the feverish but spectacular visions bred of his interviewees’ apocalypticism, he cannot help but occasionally feel “the rip tide of belief”.

The Way of the Strangers, though, is no apologetic. The time that Wood spends with Islamic State sympathisers, no matter how smart or well mannered he may find some of them, does not lead him to extenuate the menace of their beliefs. One chapter in particular – a profile of an American convert to Islam whose intelligence, learning and charisma enabled him to emerge as the principal ideologue behind Dabiq – is worthy of Joseph Conrad.

Elsewhere, however, Wood deploys a lighter touch. In a field where there has admittedly been little competition, his book ranks as the funniest yet written on Islamic State. As in many a British sitcom, the comedy mostly emerges from the disequilibrium between the scale of his characters’ pretensions and ambitions and the banality of their day-to-day lives. “He can be – to use a term he’d surely hate – a ham.” So the British Islamist Anjem Choudary is summarised and dismissed.

Most entertaining is Wood’s portrait of Musa Cerantonio, whose status as Australia’s highest-profile Islamic State sympathiser is balanced by his enthusiasm for Monty Python and Stephen Fry. His longing to leave for the “caliphate” and his repeated failure to progress beyond the Melbourne suburb where he lives with his mother create an air of dark comedy. Visiting Cerantonio, Wood finds their conversation about Islamic State ideology constantly being intruded on by domestic demands. “His mother was about ten feet away during the first part of the conversation, but once she lost interest in the magazines she walked off to another part of the house. Musa, meanwhile, was discussing theoretically the Islamic views on immolation as a method of execution.”

The scene is as terrifying as it is comic. Were Cerantonio merely a solitary eccentric, he would hardly merit the attention but, as The Way of the Strangers makes amply clear, his views are shared by large numbers of Muslims across the world. Just as Protestant radicals, during the 16th-century Reformation, scorned the traditions of the Catholic Church and sought a return to the age of the Apostles, so today do admirers of Islamic State dread that the wellsprings of God’s final revelation to mankind have been poisoned. What, then, are they to do?

That their enthusiasm for, say, slavery or the discriminatory taxation of religious minorities causes such offence to contemporary morality only confirms to them that there is a desperately pressing task of purification to perform. As Wood observes, “These practices may be rejected by mainstream Muslim scholars today, but for most of Islamic history, it barely occurred to Muslims to doubt that their religion permitted them.” Verses in the Quran, sayings of the Prophet, the example of the early caliphate: all can be used to justify them. Why, then, should Islamic State not reintroduce them, in the cause of making Islam great again?

Perhaps the most dispiriting section of Wood’s book describes his attempt to find an answer to this question by consulting eminent Muslim intellectuals in the US. Scholars whose understanding of Islam derives from a long chain of teachers (and who have framed documents on their walls to prove it) angrily condemn Islamic State for ignoring centuries’ worth of legal rulings. It is a valid point – but only if one accepts, as Islamic State does not, that scholarship can legitimately be used to supplement the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad.

When Wood asks Hamza Yusuf, an eminent Berkeley Sufi, to demonstrate the group’s errors by relying only on the texts revealed to the Prophet, he struggles to do so: “Yusuf could not point to an instance where the Islamic State was flat-out, verifiably wrong.” This does not mean that it is right but it does suggest – despite what most Muslims desperately and understandably want to believe – that it is no less authentically Islamic than any other manifestation of Islam. The achievement of Wood’s gripping, sobering and revelatory book is to open our eyes to what the implications of that for all of us may be.

Tom Holland’s books include “In the Shadow of the Sword: the Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World” (Abacus)

The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State by Graeme Wood is published by Allen Lane (317pp, £20​)

OLI SCARFF/GETTY IMAGES

Putin supporters cheer Trump’s inauguration

From Europe News. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

Nationalists jubilant despite Kremlin reservations about better US-Russia ties

What I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

By Peter Wilby from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Getty

The rage that Donald Trump has harnessed could prove his undoing

By Nicky Woolf from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 21, 2017.

The new president's supporters expect the earth from him - and he promised it to them. 

If you were expecting a conciliatory, unifying message from Donald Trump’s inaugural address, delivered Friday afternoon in Washington, DC, then: who are you and where is the rock you have been hiding under?

But despite low expectations - turnout on the Mall for the speech was embarrassingly small compared to that which came for Obama’s first inaugural address in 2009, as this CNN comparison shows - Trump delivered a deeply alarming, divisive speech which set a dark tone for the next four years.

Washington DC had spent the previous few days in a daze. People spoke in hushed tones. The tension in the air could be cut with a butter-knife. For the inauguration, this town is full to bursting with Trump supporters and protesters. Teenagers shouted “fuck Trump” at a group of white college-age students in slogan hats on the metro. People walk with thousand-yard stares; few could believe, on Thursday, that this was really happening.

As rain began to drizzle from a cool grey sky, Trump opened by saying that he was going to take power from the Washington elites and return it to the American people, following up on themes he developed during his rollercoaster campaign.

“For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost ... The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” Trump said.

The difference between the oratory of hope which was the mark of Obama’s speaking style, Trump maintained his strategy of listing threats, engaging in a politics of fear. He talked of crime; of “carnage in the streets”, of gangs.

He lamented the money spent helping defend nations overseas and pledged that “From this moment on, it's going to be America First.” That slogan, which he used during the campaign, has chilling echoes; it was the name and rallying cry of a group of prominent anti-Semites in the US in the 1930s. He promised “a new national pride.” One of his first acts as president was to announce a “national day of patriotism.”

The crowd reflected Trump’s sentiments back at him from the mall. They cheered his slogans; they booed Democratic party figures on the dais, including Hillary Clinton. They chanted “lock her up” every time she appeared on the giant screens which abutted the Capital building. When Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called for unity, the crowd booed when he said the word “immigrant”.

Afterwards, protests turned violent. Police deployed pepper-spray and concussion grenades on the street outside the Washington Post building. Trump memorabilia was burned.

Meanwhile, the policy fightback has also already begun. The first two new petitions on whitehouse.gov are for the release of Trump’s tax returns, and for his businesses to be put in a blind trust. Congressional Democrats, as well as state representatives from liberal states like California are already planning their fightback. A plane circled New York City towing the message “we outnumber him! resist!”

Obama, too, though gracious during the transition period, has hinted that if Trump rides roughshod over civil liberties he will not stay quiet.

Trump is unlikely to enjoy being president as much as running for president. His supporters expect the earth from him - he promised them it, over and over again. Those in the crowd who chanted “lock her up” at Clinton expect Trump literally to do so. “Drain the swamp” - another campaign slogan favourite  - will ring hollow to his supporters when they watch his billionaire cabinet demolish healthcare and slash funding for federal programs.

In the end when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the true charlatan behind the short-fingered demagogue of Oz, the forces of rage and dissatisfaction he harnessed to drive his campaign which may prove his undoing.

Getty Images.

The section on climate change has already disappeared from the White House website

By Media Mole from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

As soon as Trump was president, the page on climate change started showing an error message.

Melting sea ice, sad photographs of polar bears, scientists' warnings on the Guardian homepage. . . these days, it's hard to avoid the question of climate change. This mole's anxiety levels are rising faster than the sea (and that, unfortunately, is saying something).

But there is one place you can go for a bit of respite: the White House website.

Now that Donald Trump is president of the United States, we can all scroll through the online home of the highest office in the land without any niggling worries about that troublesome old man-made existential threat. That's because the minute that Trump finished his inauguration speech, the White House website's page about climate change went offline.

Here's what the page looked like on January 1st:

And here's what it looks like now that Donald Trump is president:

The perfect summary of Trump's attitude to global warming.

Now, the only references to climate on the website is Trump's promise to repeal "burdensome regulations on our energy industry", such as, er. . . the Climate Action Plan.

This mole tries to avoid dramatics, but really: are we all doomed?

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Pope’s global agenda threatened by tide of populism

From Europe News. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Trump victory and Brexit vote pose challenge to causes pontiff seeks to advance

Trump’s challenge is to narrow the rift he widened

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The optimism of Ronald Reagan was missing at the inaugural

The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

By Stella Creasy from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.

Getty

Regional diplomacy gives Gambia hope

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The demise of a west African strongman defies a global trend

Are Trump's Tweets Presidential?

By Alice Roth from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped directly into Americans’ homes with his “fireside chats.” While not quite as warm, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed is a similarly direct connection to an emotionally open president. “Twitter is a perfect tool for what he wants to do, which is bypass the media and talk directly to the people,” explains Atlantic editor Andrew McGill in this video. “He can fire up his base or push back against stories he doesn’t like.” But while Trump’s untamed Twitter gives the impression of his realness, it also could be dangerous. He’s accessible, but at what cost? This is the first episode “Unpresidented,” a new series from The Atlantic exploring a new era in American politics.

Donald Trump vs Barack Obama: How the inauguration speeches compared

By Stephanie Boland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

We compared the two presidents on trade, foreign affairs and climate change – so you (really, really) don't have to.

After watching Donald Trump's inaugural address, what better way to get rid of the last few dregs of hope than by comparing what he said with Barack Obama's address from 2009? 

Both thanked the previous President, with Trump calling the Obamas "magnificent", and pledged to reform Washington, but the comparison ended there. 

Here is what each of them said: 

On American jobs

Obama:

The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift.  And we will act, not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.  We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We'll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.  And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Trump:

For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.

One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.

Obama had a plan for growth. Trump just blames the rest of the world...

On global warming

Obama:

With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.

Trump:

On the Middle East:

Obama:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. 

Trump:

We will re-enforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

On “greatness”

Obama:

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned.

Trump:

America will start winning again, winning like never before.

 

On trade

Obama:

This is the journey we continue today.  We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth.  Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began.  Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.  Our capacity remains undiminished.  

Trump:

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.

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Donald Trump's inauguration signals the start of a new and more unstable era

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

A century in which the world's hegemonic power was a rational actor is about to give way to a more terrifying reality. 

For close to a century, the United States of America has been the world’s paramount superpower, one motivated by, for good and for bad, a rational and predictable series of motivations around its interests and a commitment to a rules-based global order, albeit one caveated by an awareness of the limits of enforcing that against other world powers.

We are now entering a period in which the world’s paramount superpower is neither led by a rational or predictable actor, has no commitment to a rules-based order, and to an extent it has any guiding principle, they are those set forward in Donald Trump’s inaugural: “we will follow two simple rules: hire American and buy American”, “from this day forth, it’s going to be America first, only America first”.

That means that the jousting between Trump and China will only intensify now that he is in office.  The possibility not only of a trade war, but of a hot war, between the two should not be ruled out.

We also have another signal – if it were needed – that he intends to turn a blind eye to the actions of autocrats around the world.

What does that mean for Brexit? It confirms that those who greeted the news that an US-UK trade deal is a “priority” for the incoming administration, including Theresa May, who described Britain as “front of the queue” for a deal with Trump’s America, should prepare themselves for disappointment.

For Europe in general, it confirms what should already been apparent: the nations of Europe are going to have be much, much more self-reliant in terms of their own security. That increases Britain’s leverage as far as the Brexit talks are concerned, in that Britain’s outsized defence spending will allow it acquire goodwill and trade favours in exchange for its role protecting the European Union’s Eastern border.

That might allow May a better deal out of Brexit than she might have got under Hillary Clinton. But there’s a reason why Trump has increased Britain’s heft as far as security and defence are concerned: it’s because his presidency ushers in an era in which we are all much, much less secure. 

Photo: Getty

The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

By Stephanie Boland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

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Trump Is Feuding With the CIA, but he Could End Up Making it Stronger

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The new administration is poised to accelerate the agency's transformation from one focused on spying to a paramilitary organization with a central role in violent conflicts, writes CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick.

Trump Is Feuding With the CIA, but He Could End Up Making It Stronger

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The administration seems poised to further unleash the agency's paramilitary branch, writes Joshua Kurlantzick. 

Goldman Sachs: Occupying Washington again

From Analysis. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Donald Trump’s overtures to the bank’s executives have sparked controversy

George Osborne takes up job at BlackRock - but what does it mean for politics?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The former Chancellor insists he hasn't forgotten about the Northern Powerhouse.

George Osborne is to take up a part-time role at asset management giant BlackRock.

The former Chancellor is understood to have been hired by the chief executive of the world's biggest investor, Larry Fink. He will be working alongside his former economic adviser Rupert Harrison.

The appointment has been approved by the Independent Appointments Committee and Osborne intends to continue as a backbench MP.

He said: "I am excited to be working with the BlackRock Investment Institute as an adviser. BlackRock wants better outcomes for pensioners and savers - and I want to help them deliver that. It's a chance for me to work part-time with one of the world's most respected firms and a major employer in Britain. 

"The majority of my time will be devoted to being an MP, representing my constituents and promoting the Northern Powerhouse.  My goal is to go on learning, gaining new experience and get an even better understanding of the world."

Once tipped as a future Prime Minister, Osborne's career ambitions were stymied after he backed Remain in the EU referendum and was sacked in Theresa May's Cabinet reshuffle. Whether he will find the halls of fund managers more comfortable than the green back benches is yet to be seen, but for now he has been clear he intends to continue his constituency duties. 

He will work at the BlackRock Investment Institute, which researches geopolitical, technological and economic trends. 

He is expected to provide insights on European politics and policy, Chinese economic reform, and trends such as low yields and longevity and their impact on retirement planning. 

While the pay packet has not been officially confirmed, Sky News quoted a source saying it would be hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But the move will also place a pro-Remain former Chancellor at the heart of the City of London, just as his Tory front bench is losing its support over Brexit negotiations.

Speaking shortly after the EU referendum vote, BlackRock chief executive Fink said he "didn't get a lot of sleep" the night of Brexit, and that the decision had led to greater uncertainty. 

 

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Watch Ian Paisley Jr thank Martin McGuinness for partnership that "saved lives"

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The son of Ian Paisley said he "humbly" thanked the man who was both his father's enemy, and then friend. 

Northern Irish politics started 2017 at a low point. The First Minister, the Democratic Unionist Arlene Foster, is embroiled in scandal - so much so that her deputy, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, resigned. Then McGuinness confirmed speculation that he was suffering from a serious illness, and would be resigning from frontline politics altogether. 

But as Ian Paisley Jr, the son of the Democratic Unionist founder Ian Paisley and a DUP politician himself, made clear, it is still possible to rise above the fray.

Paisley Sr, a firebrand Protestant preacher, opposed the Good Friday Agreement, but subsequently worked in partnership with his old nemesis, McGuinness, who himself was a former member of the IRA. Amazingly, they got on so well they were nicknamed "The Chuckle Brothers". When Paisley Sr died, McGuinness wrote that he had "lost a friend".

Speaking after McGuinness announced his retirement, Paisley Jr wished him good health, and then continued: 

"The second thing I'm going to say is thank you. I think it's important that we actually do reflect on the fact we would not be where we are in Northern Ireland in terms of having stability, peace and the opportunity to rebuild our country, if it hadn't been for the work he did put in, especially with my father at the beginning of this long journey.

"And I'm going to acknowledge the fact perhaps if we got back to some of that foundation work of building a proper relationship and recognising what partnership actually means, then we can get out of the mess we're currently in."

Questioned on whether other unionists "dont really get it", Paisley Jr retorted that it was time to move on: "Can we please get over that. Everyone out there has got over it. We as the political leaders have to demonstrate by our actions, by our words, and by our talk that we're over that."

He said he was thanking McGuinness "humbly" in recognition of "the remarkable journey" he had been on. The partnership government had "not only saved lives, but has made lives of countless people in Northern Ireland better", he said. 

 

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A Reflection on Trump's Uncharted Presidency

By Daniel Lombroso from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

James Fallows has been a journalist with The Atlantic for 38 years, and has covered presidential administrations since Jimmy Carter. “The administration of Donald Trump is less charted, more unprecedented, more uncertain than any I’ve experienced before, as a citizen or as a writer,” he says in this short animation. “The United States has suffered far worse tragedies but in terms of a failure of the system, this is quite a serious one.” In the film, Fallows considers what’s in store for American citizens in this new era of politics. How will future Americans, and the world, look back on what happened in 2017?

There is nothing Donald Trump can do to stop immigration

By David Reynolds from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The story of American immigration has been flowing inexorably in one direction. Even Trump's 24/7 tweeting can't turn the tide.

On 20 January 2009, it seemed that America had crossed the racial Rubicon. The simple fact of a non-white face behind a podium saying “president of the United States” would assure Barack Obama a place in the history books and begin a new chapter in the nation’s saga.

In January 2017, things look very different. Donald Trump won the election for many reasons, but one of them was surely a “whitelash” against a black president. Millions of Americans are not comfortable with “a person of colour” as their head of state and commander-in-chief. Some are racist; others enjoy some racist banter at the bar; many more just draw a colour line in the privacy of their hearts. Trump’s nominations to cabinet posts have included only a few non-whites, and these look like tokenism. His attitude to multiculturalism is paraded on donaldjtrump.com. At the top of his ten-point plan to “make America great again” is the pledge: “Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.”

Will Trump’s whitelash supporters be appeased? I doubt it. Judged against the longue durée of American history, it is Trump who is rowing against the tide – a tide of migration that has gradually eroded the dominance over American life and politics of those of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Wasp) stock. Nothing he can do will change that. Not the wall. Not the banning of Islamic immigrants. Not the deportation of “undesirables”. Not even 24/7 tweets. The Donald cannot turn back the Tide.

The story of American immigration has been flowing inexorably in one direction, despite periodic ebbs. The Trump whitelash is the latest of those ebbs. Here are a few snapshots from the past.

In the 1850s, the “Mexicans” of that era were Catholics, fleeing economic depression in Ireland and southern Germany and washing up in big cities such as New York and Chicago. The backlash against them took the form of the American Party, whose members had to be both native-born Protestants and the offspring of Protestant parents. Campaigning against “rum and Romanism”, the American Party demanded strict temperance laws and a ban on Catholics holding public office because of their “thraldom” to the pope. The party had a meteoric rise and fall, quickly eclipsed by the North-South divide over slavery, but anti-papism took time to fade. It was another century before the US elected its first Catholic president: John F Kennedy.

By 1900, the “threat” to American purity was posed by the “New Immigrants” from Italy, the Balkans and the Russian empire who did not look or sound like “Anglo-Saxons” from Britain, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia. In the peak year of 1907, 1.3 million migrants were admitted, 80 per cent from southern and eastern Europe. “The floodgates are open,” railed one New York newspaper. “The sewer is choked. The scum of immigration is viscerating upon our shores.” It was time to drain the swamp.

The Wasp-dominated Immigration Restriction League campaigned for the “exclusion of elements unsuitable for citizenship or injurious to national character”. Its rhetoric was often overtly racist. In 1896, the Boston economist Francis A Walker blamed creeping globalisation in the form of railroads and steamships for creating what he termed “pipeline immigration”. “So broad and smooth is the channel that there is no reason why every foul and stagnant pool of population in Europe, which no breath of intellectual or industrial life has stirred for ages, should not be decanted upon our soil” – dumping in America those he called “beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence”.

The wartime crusade for “100 per cent Americanism”, together with the 1919 “Red Scare” against communists and anarchists, finally closed the open door. In 1921 and 1924, Congress slashed migration from Europe to 150,000 a year and imposed quotas based on the proportion of nationalities in the census of 1890, thereby targeting the New Immigrants. Some congressmen made the case in explicitly racist terms, among them Senator Ellison Smith of South Carolina, who declared: “I think we now have sufficient population in our country for us to shut the door and to breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship,” formed of “pure Anglo-Saxon stock”. This was the way to make America great.

It was not until 1965 that a new Immigration Act abolished national quotas. At the time, President Lyndon B Johnson played down the law’s significance. It would not, he said, “reshape the structure of our daily lives” but merely correct “a cruel and enduring wrong”. LBJ assumed that the beneficiaries would be people from southern and eastern Europe, the main victims of the 1920s quotas, and he did not anticipate a flood of migrants. Yet in the half-century since 1965, there has been a sustained surge of immigration. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, “foreign-born” represented only 5 per cent of the US population, in the 2010 census, the figure was 13 per cent – close to the peak of almost 15 per cent in 1920.

What’s more – and again contrary to Johnson’s expectations – the migratory surge came not from Europe but from Asia and, especially, Latin America. By 2010, 16.3 per cent of the US population of 309 million was identified as Hispanic or Latino, two-thirds of which was Mexican in origin. More than four million Mexicans entered the US legally in the decade from 2000 – equivalent to the total from the whole of Asia. Hence the political appeal of “build a wall”.

African Americans constitute the second largest minority group in the US, at 13 per cent. Most are the descendants of forced migrants in the 17th and 18th centuries: slavery was the “original sin” from which the land of liberty had been conceived. Even after emancipation during the Civil War, blacks remained second-class citizens, enduring segregation in the South and discrimination in jobs, housing and education in the urban North. It was Johnson again who unlocked the door: his Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964-65 finally applied federal power to overcome states’ rights.

In doing so, however, LBJ triggered a realignment that pushed much of the previously solid Democratic South into the Republican camp. Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in 1968 signalled a sustained if coded use of the race card by Republicans to woo the silent majority of disenchanted whites – carried on more recently by the Tea Party and Trump.

Hispanics and blacks – now nearly 30 per cent of the US population – have literally changed the face of America. Barack Obama incarnates the new look, being African American but of an exotic sort: the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas; born in Hawaii; raised there and then in Indonesia; and trained at Harvard Law School. As he said in 2008, “I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

Perhaps in no other country is Trump’s story also possible. Yet it is Obama who has history on his side. The US Census Bureau has projected that whites, who made up two-thirds of the population in 2008, will constitute less than half the total well before 2050 – outnumbered by Hispanics, blacks, Asians and other non-white minority groups with higher birth rates. However, by mid-century, the great divide between white and non-white that has colour-coded US history will probably have become meaningless because of intermarriage. “Obama is 2050,” declared the demographer William H Frey: “Multiracial. Multi-ethnic.”

Governing such a diverse country – even holding it together – will be an immense challenge. The vicious 2016 election prefigured many more culture wars ahead. In the long run, however, Obama – not Trump – is the face of America’s future. Some see that as a sign of degeneration. “Perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down,” fumed the anti-immigration campaigner John Tanton. But earlier nativists said the same, warning that supposed “lesser breeds” such as “Negroes”, the Irish or Italians were out-breeding their “betters”. Those with greater faith in America’s tradition of painful adaptability might see the country’s growing demographic diversity as signalling not the decline of the Great Republic but another of its epic transformations.

David Reynolds is the author of “America: Empire of Liberty” (Penguin)

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Donald Trump's inauguration marks the start of the progressive fightback

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Opponents to Donald Trump and Brexit are reaching across the Atlantic. But can they catch up with the alt-right? 

In the icy lemon sunshine of 20 January 2017, a group of protestors lined London’s Millennium Bridge, drumming. Two scarf-clad organisers held placards that spelt “Open Hearts”. 

Protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th US President might seem like a waste of time when you could spend the day under the covers instead. But the protestors were upbeat. Sophie Dyer, a part-time student and graphic designer I met on the bridge, told me her group were “trying to avoid mentioning his name”. 

When I asked her what had catalysed her interest in political activism, she said: “Everything. 2016.”

One of the trademarks of the times is the way the alt-right learnt from each other, from Donald Trump crowning himself “Mr Brexit”, to France’s Marine Le Pen sipping coffee at Trump Towers. Now, progressives are trying to do the same. 

The protestors were part of the Bridges Not Walls protests. Ten hours before I stepped onto the Millennium Bridge, New Zealand activists had already got started. As the sun rose over Europe, banners unfurled from bridges in Dubai, France, Spain, Sweden and Norway. In the UK, there were also protests in other cities including Edinburgh and Oxford.

The demonstrations are about Trump – the name is a direct rebuke to his pledge to build a wall on the southern border – but they are no less about Brexit, or, as environmental campaigner Annabelle Acton-Bond put it, “right-wing populist movements”. 

Acton-Bond said she had come to show solidarity with American friends who opposed Trump, and those groups who would face greater oppression because of his victory. 

But she added: “It is about coming together supporting each other geographically, and across different [political and social] movements.” 

In the election post-mortem, one of the questions confronting progressives is whether voters and activists were too focused on their own issues to see the bigger picture. This varies from controversial debates over the role of identity politics, to the simpler fact that thousands of voters in the rustbelt who might have otherwise helped Clinton opted for the Green candidate Jill Stein.

But while Bridges Not Walls paid homage to different causes - LGBTQ rights were represented on one bridge, climate change on an other - each  remained part of the whole. The UK Green Party used the event to launch a “Citizens of the World” campaign aimed at resettling more child refugees. 

Meanwhile, Trump and his European allies are moving fast to redefine normal. Already, media critics are being blocked from presidential press conferences, divisive appointments have been made and the intelligence authorities undermined. 

As US opponents of Trump can learn from those in the UK resisting a hard Brexit, resisting this kind of right-wing populism comes at a cost, whether that is personal infamy a la Gina Miller, or the many hours spent dusting off books on constitutional law. 

The question for transatlantic progressives, though, is whether they are prepared to leave the morning sunshine for the less glamorous elbow grease of opposition – the late night email exchanges, the unpaid blog posts, the ability to compromise - that will be needed to bend the arc of history back towards justice. 

 

Julia Rampen

Stop saying identity politics caused Trump

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

It's a wildly unsophisticated analysis that ignores the fact that all politics is inflected by identity.

Look, I don't mean to be funny, but is there something in the water supply? When Mark Lilla wrote his jeremiad against "identity liberalism" in the New York Times, it was comprehensively picked over and rebutted. But this zombie take has risen again. In the last 24 hours, all these tweets have drifted across my timeline:

And then this (now deleted, I think, probably because I was mean about it on Twitter).

And finally, for the hat-trick . . .

Isn't it beautiful to see a Blairite, a Liberal Leaver and a Corbynite come together like this? Maybe there is a future for cross-spectrum, consensual politics in this country.

These are all versions of a criticism which has swilled around since Bernie Sanders entered the US presidential race, and ran on a platform of economic populism. They have been turbocharged by Sanders' criticisms since the result, where he blamed Clinton's loss on her attempt to carve up the electorate into narrow groups. And they are now repeated ad nauseam by anyone wanting to sound profound: what if, like, Black Lives Matter are the real racists, yeah? Because they talk about race all the time.

This glib analysis has the logical endpoint that if only people didn't point out racism or sexism or homophobia, those things would be less of a problem. Talking about them is counterproductive, because it puts people's backs up (for a given definition of "people"). She who smelt it, dealt it.

Now, I have strong criticisms of what I would call Pure Identity Politics, unmoored from economics or structural concerns. I have trouble with the idea of Caitlyn Jenner as an "LGBT icon", given her longstanding opposition to gay marriage and her support for an administration whose vice-president appears to think you can electrocute the gay out of people. I celebrate female leaders even if I don't agree with their politics, because there shouldn't be an additional Goodness Test which women have to pass to be deemed worthy of the same opportunities as men. But I don't think feminism's job is done when there are simply a few more female CEOs or political leaders, particularly if (as is now the case) those women are more likely than their male peers to be childless. Role models only get you so far. Structures are important too.

I also think there are fair criticisms to be made of the Clinton campaign, which was brave - or foolish, depending on your taste - to associate her so explicitly with progressive causes. Stephen Bush and I have talked on the podcast about how hard Barack Obama worked to reassure White America that he wasn't threatening, earning himself the ire of the likes of Cornel West. Hillary Clinton was less mindful of the feelings of both White America and Male America, running an advert explicitly addressed to African-Americans, and using (as James Morris pointed out to me on Twitter) the slogan "I'm With Her". 

Watching back old Barack Obama clips (look, everyone needs a hobby), it's notable how many times he stressed the "united" in "united states of America". It felt as though he was trying to usher in a post-racial age by the sheer force of his rhetoric. 

As Obama told Ta-Nehisi Coates during his last days in office, he thought deeply about how to appeal to all races: 

"How do I pull all these different strains together: Kenya and Hawaii and Kansas, and white and black and Asian—how does that fit? And through action, through work, I suddenly see myself as part of the bigger process for, yes, delivering justice for the [African American community] and specifically the South Side community, the low-income people—justice on behalf of the African American community. But also thereby promoting my ideas of justice and equality and empathy that my mother taught me were universal. So I’m in a position to understand those essential parts of me not as separate and apart from any particular community but connected to every community."

Clinton's mistake was perhaps that she thought this caution was no longer needed.

So there are criticisms of "identity politics" that I accept, even as I wearily feel that - like "neoliberalism" - it has become a bogeyman, a dumpster for anything that people don't like but don't care to articulate more fully.

But there are caveats, and very good reasons why anyone pretending to a sophisticated analysis of politics shouldn't say that "identity politics caused Trump".

The first is that if you have an identity that any way marks you out from the norm, you can't change that. Hillary Clinton couldn't not be the first woman candidate from a major party running for the US presidency. She either had to embrace it, or downplay it. Donald Trump faced no such decision. 

The second is that, actually, Clinton didn't run an explicitly identity-focused campaign on the ground, at least not in terms of her being a woman. Through the prism of the press, and because of the rubbernecker's dream that is misogyny on social media, her gender inevitably loomed large. But as Rebecca Solnit wrote in the LRB:

"The Vox journalist David Roberts did a word-frequency analysis on Clinton’s campaign speeches and concluded that she mostly talked about workers, jobs, education and the economy, exactly the things she was berated for neglecting. She mentioned jobs almost 600 times, racism, women’s rights and abortion a few dozen times each. But she was assumed to be talking about her gender all the time, though it was everyone else who couldn’t shut up about it."

My final problem with the "identity politics caused Trump" argument is that it assumes that explicit appeals to whiteness and masculinity are not identity politics. That calling Mexicans "rapists" and promising to build a wall to keep them out is not identity politics. That promising to "make America great again" at the expense of the Chinese or other trading partners is not identity politics. That selling a candidate as an unreconstructed alpha male is not identity politics. When you put it that way, I do accept that identity politics caused Trump. But I'm guessing that's not what people mean when they criticise identity politics. 

Let's be clear: America is a country built on identity politics. The "all men" who were created equal notably excluded a huge number of Americans. Jim Crow laws were nothing if not identity politics. The electoral college was instituted to benefit southern slave-owners. This year's voting restrictions disproportionately affected populations which lean Democrat. There is no way to fight this without prompting a backlash: that's what happens when you demand that the privileged give up some of their perks. 

I don't know what the "identity politics caused Trump" guys want gay rights campaigners, anti-racism activists or feminists to do. Those on the left, like Richard Burgon, seem to want a "no war but the class war" approach, which would be all very well if race and gender didn't intersect with economics (the majority of unpaid care falls squarely on women; in the US, black households have far fewer assets than white ones.)

Those on the right, like Daniel Hannan, seem to just want people banging on about racism and homophobia to shut up because he, personally, finds it boring. Perhaps they don't know any old English poetry with which to delight their followers instead. (Actually, I think Hannan might have hit on an important psychological factor in some of these critiques: when conversations centre on anti-racism, feminism and other identity movements, white men don't benefit from their usual unearned assumption of expertise in the subject at hand. No wonder they find discussion of them boring.)

Both of these criticisms end up in the same place. Pipe down, ladies. By complaining, you're only making it worse. Hush now, Black Lives Matter: white people find your message alienating. We'll sort out police racism... well, eventually. Probably. Just hold tight and see how it goes. Look, gay people, could you be a trifle... less gay? It's distracting.

I'm here all day for a discussion about the best tactics for progressive campaigners to use. I'm sympathetic to the argument that furious tweets, and even marches, have limited effect compared with other types of resistance.

But I can't stand by while a candidate wins on an identity-based platform, in a political system shaped by identity, and it's apparently the fault of the other side for talking too much about identity.

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The “special relationship”: Britain should seek Donald Trump’s respect, not his affection

By from European Union. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Main image:  THE urgency with which Britain’s Brexiteer elite has scrambled to cosy up to Donald Trump in the weeks building up to today’s inauguration has been something to behold. Leading the way was Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, flashing a mile-wide grin as he posed for souvenir snaps with the president-elect. Last week Michael Gove made the same pilgrimage. The former justice secretary, now writing for the Times, could barely conceal how impressed he was by America’s macho new helmsman: beaming for a goofy, thumbs-up photo and writing up the encounter in excruciating terms: “Mr Trump’s conversation flows like a river in spate, overwhelming interruptions and objections, reflecting the force of nature that is the man.”The reflex goes all the way to the top: Theresa May greeting the November election result without the reserved language of, say, Angela Merkel. On January 15th her government infuriated other EU members by boycotting the Middle East peace conference in Paris to curry Mr Trump’s favour. In her big Brexit speech on Tuesday the prime minister hailed the president-elect’s talk of a prompt trade deal as an early triumph for her “Global Britain” agenda. After a week in which the tone of British-European relations has greatly soured, Mr Trump’s enthusiasm for Brexit and hostility to ...

The food trends coming your way in 2017 – from vegan butchers to, er, crickets

By Felicity Cloake from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Insects are an economical alternative protein source to meat – and tastier than charred pizza base.

Eyeball to eyeball with a crispy cricket, the freeze-dried face of modern meat eating, I find it hard to imagine the UK ever embracing insects as a realistic dinner option, let alone coming round to the idea in the next 12 months. But, once I shut my eyes and bite down, the prospect seems less far-fetched. The flavour, nutty and slightly bitter, reminds me of roasted soya beans, while the texture is as blessedly dry and crunchy as a deep-fried prawn. While I’m not rushing for a second helping – to be fair, they’re completely unseasoned – neither am I reaching for the nearest napkin.

Insects are economical to farm in terms of land and energy and contain an impressive amount of protein. Nicola Lando, whose website, Sous Chef, stocks a variety of food-grade bugs (including the one I’ve just swallowed), believes that, though they’re
a novelty now, “In even a year’s time, they’ll be much less of one.”

I may cringe when I imagine a wing wedged between my molars but Lando points out that the bugs could be ground into flour, and: “Who even thinks about what they put in their protein shake?” (Certainly not me – even the most delicious insect couldn’t convince me to drink one.)

Yet, though insects have already popped up on menus at restaurants from the Michelin-starred Noma to the family favourite Wahaca, I suspect that because of deeply entrenched taboos in these parts, they will remain a niche ingredient for a few years yet.

The impetus behind the idea of introducing them to our diets – the need for the West to cut down its meat consumption – will have more mainstream effects in 2017, however. The number of vegans in this country has risen by 360 per cent in the past decade, and it’s a trend driven by the young: a fifth of 16-to-24-year-olds don’t eat meat.

In response, Britain has its first vegan butchers in the form of Sgaia – which makes “plant-based meats” – and Pret a Manger’s vegetarian pop-up in London’s Soho has not only become permanent but is expanding, much to the annoyance of a BLT-loving friend who works nearby.

This is shaping up to be a pretty worthy year for food. You’ll find grains you’ve never heard of in your breakfast cereal (M&S has launched some quinoa and sorghum clusters, while buckwheat sales at Waitrose are up 82 per cent). Meanwhile, sugar will be the new saturated fat, with government plans for a soft drinks tax nearing fruition, and the metropolitan elites are still krazy for fermented things such as koji, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and other suspiciously scented things beginning with K that are believed to be good for our gut.

Lest all this feels a bit dour, there is tropical sunshine on the horizon in the form of Hawaiian food, and I’m not talking about pineapple pizzas, which were, it turns out, created in Canada. Poke (pronounced “po-kay”), a Japanese-influenced raw fish salad, is tipped to be the “must-eat snack of 2017”, according to Waitrose: you’ll find it on the menu at Yo! Sushi and, in a veggie version, at Pret.

Barbecue will still be big and beefy. Charcoal will sneak into everything – black pizza bases may taste like dog biscuits but they look great on social media – and Mexican tacos are the new burritos. (Tacos are often deliciously meaty, greasy and smothered in sour cream. They even come stuffed with chocolate in Liverpool. There is hope for the year after all.)

We might well need a bit of deep-fried comfort in the months to come because, sadly, the winner of my Prediction Most Likely to Come True Award is Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City, University of London, who forecasts “a tsunami” of food prices courtesy of – you guessed it – Brexit. Have a good 2017, everyone. Hang on to your Marmite while you can.

Next week: John Burnside on nature

A. MARTIN UW PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES

The Print Room’s “Yellowface” scandal reveals deeper problems with British theatre

By Kate Maltby from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Howard Barker’s play In the Depths of Dead Love was picketed on press night. But is it racist, or simply lacking in imagination?

From the legends of Ancient China flow simple truths and mystic sagacity. So suggests the advance publicity for Howard Barker’s new play at the Notting Hill Print Room, inspired allegedly by a Chinese fable. A December casting announcement for In The Depths of Dead Love revealed that a list of characters with names like “Lord Ghang” and “Lady Hasi” would be played by an exclusively white cast. Only the most naïve of producers could have failed to anticipate the storm of protest that would follow.  Last night’s press opening was picketed by a passionate demonstration spilling over the pavements of Notting Hill – a largely dignified affair that grew disappointingly ugly as patrons left the building.

It’s not as if theatreland is a stranger to “yellowface” scandals. As far back as 1990, the mother of all cross-cultural standoffs emerged when American Equity attempted to block Cameron Mackintosh from bringing his latest London hit, Miss Saigon, to Broadway unless he recast the role of the character of the Engineer, played in London by Jonathan Pryce. Pryce’s defenders pointed out that the character was mixed-race, rather than strictly East Asian; his critics noted that he had still opened the London run wearing prosthetic eyelids and bronzing cream.

The protests marked a watershed, making visible the obstacles faced by East Asian actors. (Often blocked from “white” roles, often beaten to “East Asian” roles by white stars.) Yet controversies have continued to hit the headlines: the Edinburgh Fringe is a frequent flashpoint. In late 2015, a production of The Mikado was cancelled in New York after being deluged with protests; the producers denounced it as censorship. In 2014, the National Theatre in London staged Yellowface, a witty, self-deprecating piece by David Henry Hwang, inspired by the protests Hwang himself had led against Miss Saigon. After such a high-profile production, few theatre makers in London could claim ignorance of the issues at stake when white actors take Chinese names.

Against this background, The Print Room screwed up badly. A statement issued in December only entrenched the public image of Barker’s play as an Orientalist fantasy: “In the Depths of Dead Love is not a Chinese play and the characters are not Chinese. The production references a setting in Ancient China and the characters’ names are Chinese…  The allusions are intended to signify “not here, not now, not in any actual real ‘where’ ” and the production, set, costumes and dialogue follow this cue of ‘no place.’”

In effect, this gives us white actors playing universal types, rendered distant by their exotic names. It’s perfectly reasonable to set mythic tales in a universal landscape; what’s bizarre is to see any cast charged with representing the universal when all of them are white. As Yo Zushi argued in a New Statesman piece in 2015, critics of “cultural appropriation” too often “insist that culture, by its nature a communally forged and ever-changing project, should belong to specific peoples and not to all”. It would be absurd to argue that no British playwright should draw inspiration from Chinese literature. But watch an all-white cast stand in for universal experience on stage, and it start to look like British theatre belongs to one specific people: white people.

The irony is that In The Depths of Dead Love turns out otherwise to be a sensitive meditation on the limits of empathy. A poet is exiled from the city for sedition – or is it decadence? – and living in a wasteland, he purchases a bottomless well, charging suicides for entrance. The prevaricating Lady Hasi, played by the perennially impressive Stella Gonet, is a daily visitor. Her frustrated husband (William Chubb) commands the poet to break the cycle and “shove” her in. So begins a gentle mediation on mortality, language and intent.

The play does indeed evoke a universal landcape. Justin Nardella’s design is a simple series of ellipses: a well, a moon, a vast mirror. It’s effective, if imperfectly executed – this ‘bottomless well’ is quite clearly not bottomless. As the poet “Chin”, James Clyde injects potentially baggy monologues with wit and verve; fresh from playing opposite Glenda Jackson’s King LearChubb brings his usual mix of menace and linguistic precision. The mediations on poetic exile owe as much to Ovid’s Tristia and Ex Ponto as they do to Chinese source material. If only Barker’s characters didn’t keep emphasising each other’s oriental names as some kind of cheaply Brechtian, exoticising effect.

The righteousness of thesps on the war path is often blinkered: perhaps the protestors outside the Print Room last night would do well to see the play in order to engage with it fully. Keep attacking white writers when they acknowledge their Asian influences, and we’ll see real appropriation – Barker would have faced less protest had he ripped off the storyline wholesale and used it to inspire an ‘original’ work set in a Dignitas clinic.

I might even describe this slight work as the best thing I’ve ever seen at the Print Room, which is part of the larger problem. A personal project run by the director wife of a wealthy banker, the Print Room is well insulated against both commercial and critical failure. There’s no more bizarre sense of artistic stagnation like watching a expensive lighting rig, as in Genet’s Deathwatch, illuminate a few punters sprinkled in an empty auditorium. Last month's atrocious The Tempest starred Kristin Winters, the daughter of founder-director Anda Winters, a talented actress who deserves to be employed somewhere her mother isn't the impresario. 

Private philanthropy is essential to the future of theatre. It requires clear separation between patrons and artistic decisions, with a diversity of funding sources. But when theatres are run as vanity projects, they often lose touch with the energy and concerns of the arts world as a whole. 

The Print Room could do with making better friends in theatreland. An updated statement this week, while apologising profoundly for previous insensitivies, nonetheless hit out at Equity UK for “misrepresenting and misquoting” it. A series of departures has marked the Print Room’s tenure: among them Winter’s original co-founder, the respected director Lucy Bailey and the Print Room’s previous PR team amongst them, who left abruptly during the press run for A Lovely Sunday At Creve Coeur.

If there’s hope for the venue, it’s that In The Depths of Dead Love, which Winters developed closely with Howard Barker, shows the first glimpses of a real artistic mission. Unfortunately, it's a lily-white one.

 

 

Hugo Glendinning

China city unveils parking spaces for toilet breaks

From BBC News - World. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Spaces marked on main roads in Xi'an have 15 minute time limit for drivers caught short.

Eighty pages in to Age of Anger, I still had no idea what it was about

By Helen Lewis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

When Pankaj Mishra describes a “postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”, he inadvertently summarises his own book.

Most books arrive on the market dragging a comet tail of context: the press release, the blurb on the back, the comparison with another book that sold well (sometimes this is baked into the title, as with a spate of novels in which grown women were recast as “girls”, variously gone, or on the train, or with dragon tattoos or pearl earrings). Before you even start reading, you know pretty much what you will get.

So I was particularly disconcerted to reach page 80 of Pankaj Mishra’s Age of Anger and realise that I didn’t really know what it was about. The prologue starts with a recap of the tyrannical career of the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, namechecks The Communist Manifesto, describes how Europeans were enthralled by Napoleon’s “quasi-autistic machismo”, links this to the “great euphoria” experienced in 1914, mentions that Eugene Onegin “wears a tony ‘Bolívar’ hat”, then dwells on Rimbaud’s belief that not washing made him a better writer, before returning to D’Annunzio to conclude that his life “crystallised many themes of our own global ferment as well as those of his spiritually agitated epoch”.

Psychologists have demonstrated that the maximum number of things that a human can hold in their brain is about seven. The prologue is titled “Forgotten Conjunctures”. I might know why they have been forgotten.

Two pages later, Mishra is at it again. How’s this for a paragraph?

After all, Maxim Gorky, the Bolshevik, Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-advocate of “pure” Islam, Martin Buber, the exponent of the “New Jew”, and Lu Xun, the campaigner for a “New Life” in China, as well as D’Annunzio, were all devotees of Nietzsche. Asian anti-imperialists and American robber barons borrowed equally eagerly from the 19th-century polymath Herbert Spencer, the first truly global thinker – who, after reading Darwin, coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Hitler revered Atatürk (literally “the father of the Turks”) as his guru; Lenin and Gramsci were keen on Taylorism, or “Americanism”; American New Dealers later borrowed from Mussolini’s “corporatism”.

This continues throughout. The dizzying whirl of names began to remind me of Wendy Cope’s “Waste Land Limericks”: “No water. Dry rocks and dry throats/Then thunder, a shower of quotes/From the Sanskrit and Dante./Da. Damyata. Shantih./I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.”

The trouble comes because Mishra has set himself an enormous subject: explaining why the modern world, from London to Mumbai and Mosul, is like it is. But the risk of writing about everything is that one can end up writing about nothing. (Hang on, I think I might be echoing someone here. Perhaps this prose style is contagious. As Nietzsche probably wrote.) Too often, the sheer mass of Mishra’s reading list obscures the narrative connective tissue that should make sense of his disparate examples.

By the halfway point, wondering if I was just too thick to understand it, I did something I don’t normally do and read some other reviews. One recorded approvingly that Mishra’s “vision is . . . resistant to categorisation”. That feels like Reviewer Code to me.

His central thesis is that the current “age of anger” – demonstrated by the rise of Islamic State and right-wing nationalism across Europe and the US – is best understood by looking at the 18th century. Mishra invokes the concept of “ressentiment”, or projecting resentment on to an external enemy; and the emergence of the “clash of civilisations” narrative, once used to justify imperialism (“We’re bringing order to the natives”) and now used to turn Islamic extremism from a political challenge into an existential threat to the West.

It is on the latter subject that Mishra is most readable. He grew up in “semi-rural India” and now lives between London and Shimla; his prose hums with energy when he feels that he is writing against a dominant paradigm. His skirmish with Niall Ferguson over the latter’s Civilisation: the West and the Rest in the London Review of Books in 2011 was highly enjoyable, and there are echoes of that fire here. For centuries, the West has presumed to impose a narrative on the developing world. Some of its current anxiety and its flirtation with white nationalism springs from the other half of the globe talking back.

On the subject of half of us getting a raw deal, this is unequivocally a history of men. We read about Flaubert and Baudelaire “spinning dreams of virility”, Gorky’s attachment to the idea of a “New Man” and the cultural anxieties of (male) terrorists. Poor Madame de Staël sometimes seems like the only woman who ever wrote a book.

And yet, in a book devoted to unpicking hidden connections, the role of masculinity in rage and violence is merely noted again and again without being explored. “Many intelligent young men . . . were breaking their heads against the prison walls of their societies” in the 19th century, we learn. Might it not be interesting to ask whether their mothers, sisters and daughters were doing the same? And if not, why?

Mishra ends with the present, an atomised, alienated world of social media and Kim Kardashian. Isis, we are told, “offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine”. That is also a good description of this book. 

DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

We know what Donald Trump's presidency will look like - and it's terrifying

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The direction of America's 45th president plans to take is all too clear.

Welcome to what we may one day describe as the last day of the long 20th century.

“The Trump Era: The Decline of the Great Republic” is our cover story. “Now the world holds its breath” is the Mirror’s splash, “Protesters mass ahead of Trump's presidency” is the Times’, while the Metro opts to look back at America’s departing 44th President: “Farewell Mr President” sighs their frontpage.

Of today’s frontpages, i best captures the scale of what’s about to happen: “The day the world changes”. And today’s FT demonstrates part of that change: “Mnuchin backs 'long-term' strong dollar after mixed Trump signals”. The President-Elect (and sadly that’s the last time I’ll be able to refer to Trump in that way) had suggested that the dollar was overvalued, statements that his nominee for Treasury Secretary has rowed back on.

Here’s what we know about Donald Trump so far: that his major appointments split into five groups: protectionists, white nationalists, conservative ideologues,  his own family members, and James Mattis, upon whom all hope that this presidency won’t end in global catastrophe now rests.  Trump has done nothing at all to reassure anyone that he won’t use the presidency to enrich himself on a global scale. His relationship with the truth remains just as thin as it ever was.

Far from “not knowing what Trump’s presidency will look like”, we have a pretty good idea: at home, a drive to shrink the state, and abroad, a retreat from pro-Europeanism and a stridently anti-China position, on trade for certain and very possibly on Taiwan as well.

We are ending the era of the United States as a rational actor and guarantor of a degree of global stability, and one in which the world’s largest hegemon behaves as an irrational actor and guarantees global instability.

The comparison with Brexit perhaps blinds many people to the scale of the change that Trump represents. The very worst thing that could happen after Brexit is that we become poorer.  The downside of Trump could be that we look back on 1989 to 2017 as the very short 21st century.

Photo: Getty

Labour picks Gillian Troughton to fight Copeland by-election

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Troughton, a Copeland councillor, was critical of Jeremy Corbyn during the summer leadership race. 

Labour has picked Gillian Troughton, pro-nuclear former doctor to fight the Copeland by-election.

After accepting the nomination, in an email shared online, Troughton said she was "pro-nuclear; no ifs, no buts", and that her husband worked in the nuclear supply chain. She is also a local councillor and a practising Christian. 

She described the election as a choice about the NHS: "I have been part of the campaign against the proposed cuts to A&E and the maternity wing because I know that our community needs this service."

Like Jamie Reed, the current MP for Copeland, Troughton is a critic of Jeremy Corbyn and backed Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour leadership campaign.

She also campaigned to remain in the EU, and now must win over a voting population that voted 62 per cent to leave - the strongest Eurosceptic vote in Cumbria. 

Her victory is a symbolic defeat for the Labour leadership, as she beat Corbyn supporter Rachel Holliday, also a councillor with ties to the nuclear industry and the NHS. 

However, the decision to pick a non-Corbynite may be a relief for those within the Labour leader's camp who worry about "owning" a possible by-election defeat. 

Corbyn said of the selection: “I am delighted that Gillian Troughton will be Labour’s candidate for the Copeland by-election. 

“Gillian is a local councillor with a strong track record of getting things done for her community. She has campaigned tirelessly to maintain local hospital services. 

“As a St John’s blue light ambulance driver, Gillian has seen first-hand the extent of the crisis caused by this Conservative government, which has chosen to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest instead of our health service. 

“I am proud that Labour has selected a local candidate with such dedication to her community.”

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My latest Brexit worry? What will happen to our footballers

By Alison McGovern from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

My week, from why we should “keep on running” to mansplaining in the Commons.

It’s a funny old game, politics. Just when you think you’ve got your head round the myriad consequences of the Brexit vote, yet another one springs to mind. This week, I stumbled upon another sector in which Britain leads the world that will be thrown into uncertainty by Brexit: football.

The background of this moment of clarity is that I’ve been trying to rescue a youth centre in my constituency that the council can no longer afford to run. Thankfully, the brilliant New Ferry Rangers want to take it over as their clubhouse. I tell the chair of the FA, Greg Clarke, about our plans.

In doing so, I realise that the European Union’s competition rules apply to the beautiful game, just as they do to every other business sector in the UK. In practical terms, the absence of these continental rules opens up the possibility of changes to who can play, own and broadcast our wonderful yet expensive national game.

“Will Bosman still apply?” a colleague asks me with relish, referring to the 1995 European Court of Justice ruling that allows EU footballers to transfer easily from one club to another. Who knows? Who knows who knows?

 

Three lions on the shirt

The football dilemma is a microcosm of the wider immigration issue. Some imagine that by barring foreign talent from our shores, we will advantage British-born players. If fewer foreigners are allowed to play and English lads get more playing time in the Premier League, perhaps leaving the EU might result in the long-wished-for success for the England national team?

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. If you don’t have the skills to play alongside the best in the world, you probably don’t have the skills to beat the best in the world. As the Spanish La Liga and the German Bundesliga have shown, there is no incompatibility in allowing league teams to source great players from around the world and still having your home-grown stars come together to win international tournaments.

The most important intervention is to enable your people to develop the skills that they need to compete. This is as true for football as it is for everything else.

 

Hammond’s gilt trip

It’s Treasury questions in the House of Commons this week, and I want to ask about the cost of British government debt, which dwarfs even the monstrous levels of cash in modern football. It is a bitter irony that, following the global financial crisis that helped the Tories win the 2010 general election, the slow-burn economic crisis that the party has since brought about with David Cameron’s botched referendum has received scant attention. (Particularly in comparison with the Westminster lobby’s anxiety about Labour’s record on debt and the deficit.)

British debt owned by foreign investors has now breached the high-water mark of £500bn, its highest-ever level. As the value of sterling tumbles, we can only wonder what risks may lie ahead, as our creditors watch the value of these investments fall.

The Chancellor responds to me by explaining how gilts work. He doesn’t answer my question at all, however, leaving us all to wonder what horrors the Budget in March might bring. It’s a lovely reminder that I am not immune to mansplaining, even in the House of Commons, and that we call it “parliamentary questions” and not “parliamentary answers”.

It’s also a demonstration of how little economic policymaking is going on. The great nation of John Maynard Keynes, the inventor of global economic institutions that have steadied the world, is now reduced to skulking around Europe, seeking an embarrassing exit from the union that cemented his postwar peace settlement. Once, we led in Europe. Now we follow as the hard right barks its orders.

 

Trading down

Listening to Theresa May’s Brexit speech later on Tuesday, my heart sinks again. She puts paid to the idea that we might stay in the single market. Reducing immigration is her life’s work, apparently. It is a grave error and one that must be resisted. The biggest challenge to our country is not that people are prepared to come to work here and pay their taxes here. New Britons deserve our respect.

 

A sporting chance

On Wednesday, I meet the Speaker to discuss the ongoing work to build on the legacy of our friend Jo Cox.

Through these hard days, I am reminded constantly of two things. First, the words of her brilliant husband, Brendan, who said that we will fight the hate that killed her. Jo never gave up on a monumental challenge, and all our kids need us not to lose heart now. Second, that my experience of Jo was that she focused on the challenge ahead and never wallowed. She was the best of us, and I wish I were more like her.

One thing that Jo and I had in common was that we took part in the annual House of Commons tug of war. Unlike the Premier League, we women of the political world cannot boast world-beating talent in our sport. But we demonstrate the spirit of This Girl Can, Sport England’s campaign to empower women in their sporting endeavours (which returns to our screens soon).

 

Making tracks

While we wrestle in politics with the horrific events that happened last year and the risks ahead, I am trying to demonstrate the This Girl Can spirit and keep up with my physical activity. I would love to be better at football, the sport I adore, but there are not that many opportunities to play, given the parliamentary timetable. So I get up early for a jog along the Thames and tell myself that going slowly is faster than never going at all. Without a doubt, for progressives right now, “Keep on Running” is our theme tune.

Alison McGovern is the MP for Wirral South (Labour)

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Meet the Brits protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration this weekend

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

The British campaigners joining in international anti-racism, pro-women’s rights demonstrations against the new US President.

On Friday 20 January, across the UK, in cities spanning York, Aberdeen, Bradford, Cambridge and London, huge banners will be dropped from bridges, emblazoned with the words: “Bridges Not Walls”.

A tightly coordinated direct action, the intended message is one of solidarity: by standing up for one another’s rights, we can prevent the further marginalisation of vulnerable groups of people. “In London, there are about ten bridges,” says Harry Jefferson-Perry, a 23-year-old gay man who’s involved in the organising. “There’s a bridge run by people fighting Islamophobia, an LGBTQ bridge, and a women’s bridge. It’s about smashing borders – physical and metaphorical. It’s a form of protest against the rise of the far right everywhere.”


Harry Jefferson-Perry. Photo: Malaika Ibreck

The #bridgesnotwalls protest is one of several nation-wide actions taking place in the UK this weekend as Donald Trump is ushered into the White House and attends his first day of presidency. The campaign group Stand Up To Racism is holding a rally outside the US Embassy in London on Friday evening, the day of Trump’s inauguration, with more than 3,000 people confirmed to attend on Facebook and 20 corresponding sister marches set to take place around Britain.

On Saturday, the international Women’s March is scheduled in approximately 600 sister locations and counting, in all 50 states of America, and countries spanning Norway, Nairobi and Japan. In London, around 30,000 people have confirmed attendance to the march, the real number expected to be much higher.

The goal of the Women’s March is a street-level demonstration that women’s rights are human rights. Their manifesto maintains that they’re not directly targeting Trump (it seems they wouldn’t want to give him the credence), but to the kind of racist, sexist and homophobic ideology his presidential campaign spun.

The demonstrations are bigger than the man himself, as illustrated by their apparent global appeal. “It’s about bringing the point home that just because equality is an everyday issue, and it doesn’t go away or rise and fall with who’s in government, that doesn’t mean it’s not urgent,” says Isabel Adomakoh Young, a 24-year-old British-Ghanaian and activist from West London who will be attending the Women’s March on Westminster this Saturday.


Isabel Adomakoh Young​

Adomakoh Young says she heard about the original Women’s March on Washington in November via black feminists she follows on Twitter. For her, going along to the London march is, in part, an act directed at the US government. “Between Trump and Brexit things aren’t looking good for people suffering oppression,” she says. “As a queer, black, cis female, I’m worried that Trump normalises unacceptable behaviour. He’s also seemingly immune to journalism, fact-checking and video, so I think people being in the street is going to hit home harder than op-eds in middle-class newspapers.”

The second reason she’s going, she says, is to show solidarity with other women: “With social media and technology people get lonely. You read the news and you think you’re the only person having feelings of isolation or, specifically as a woman, feelings of diminishment.”

As well as lobbying with a gender equality campaign group called 50:50 Parliament, for whom she’ll be making a speech in Trafalgar Square on Saturday, Adomakoh Young is also an organising member of the activist group Sisters Uncut, which focuses on fighting cuts to domestic violence services.

However, it’s clear that many of the people who are attending marches and rallies this weekend don’t come from an activism background at all, but have been moved by recent political events to seek out a way to protest. Kimberly Tyler-Shafiq, 41, from Texas, lives in Surrey and works in HR. She is married to a British-Pakistani man with whom she has a four-year-old daughter. When we speak on the phone she tells me that she hasn’t been to a protest since those against the war on Iraq in 2003.

“After the election results I felt devastated,” she says. “We were on the precipice of having the first woman president in the US and I was so happy to cast my vote for a woman. I know I’m from a conservative state but when I saw Texas come in red it still lit a fire in me – people cannot be allowed to get away with what Trump has in terms of racism and sexism. I started looking for groups on Facebook and found the Stand Up To Racism rally.”

Tyler-Shafiq wanted to meet, “likeminded people who want to make a change”, and in this online group she found people with the same agenda. As she sees it, Friday night’s demonstration isn’t an act against democracy, just a message that people “are not going to roll over and play dead”. Tyler-Shafiq plans to take her four-year-old to the event with her.

Over in Ireland, American Fanya O’Donoghue and her Irish husband Donal have similar motivations to Tyler-Shafiq. “After the election I was so stunned and embarrassed for my nation that it spurred me into action,” says Fanya. “I’ve always felt strongly about immigration because that’s affected us. Now I feel like, if we were to go back to the US, what would my husband’s green card mean?”

O’Donoghue decided to set up her own Women’s March on Galway as a response to these feelings. Again, like Tyler-Shafiq, she’s been uninvolved in politics before. “This is the first time I’ve been active like this because it’s the first time politics have made me cry,” she says.

To register her sister march, she contacted the US March on Washington team, and they added her to the admin groups, global Slack messages, and emailed over organising kits, press kits, posters and guiding principles. Then she reached out to Irish non-profits who might be interested in spreading the word; anti-racism groups, pro-choice campaigners and the like.

When asked why the march is relevant to Ireland, Fanya replies, “the rights we want to defend for America apply to every country where women are paid less, have unfair maternity rights or experience sexism”. That’s every country in the world then.

She sees the action as “linking arms”, and wholeheartedly believes that when the 600-odd marches happen on Saturday, people will be forced to pay attention. “Women are like a sleeping giant,” she tells me passionately. “It’s like they say – if you want something done, ask a busy person – and the busiest people are mums and working women. It’s important for my sons to see how powerful a woman is.”

She passes the phone over to her husband and he reiterates her sentiment: “Our kids are half American so they’ve had a bunch of questions about the election at school. We thought: what better way to show them that democracy is an active process than organising our own march? Change starts with people coming together and fighting for their beliefs.”

It’s yet to be seen how many people around the globe attend Saturday’s Women’s Marches, but from estimated attendance it currently looks set to be the biggest global demonstration since the anti-Iraq war protests that Tyler-Shafiq and millions of others attended.

Perhaps it is the open-door policy and lack of specificity that’s seen the marches seized upon by so many disenfranchised groups around the world. “I don’t think people feel obliged to read up or be intellectually infallible before they go,” agrees Adomakoh Young. “It’s just for anyone who is pro-equality. A universal cause to rally around.”

Likewise, Jefferson-Perry encourages anyone to get involved with #bridgesnotwalls. “Look on the website, see who you affiliate, drop in and join them,” he says.

For Tyler-Shafiq, the march will, she hopes, be an outlet for the frustration that her and many other Americans in the UK are experiencing. “It’s hard to sit over here watching what’s going on in my homeland and feeling helpless.” And yet, while it’s “good to be involved as an expat”, she is aligning herself with likeminded Britons who want to influence UK leadership to stand up to homophobia, racism and sexism too.

“We can’t allow ourselves to be complacent about how Trump’s agenda is trickling into British politics because of the close relationship between the two countries,” she says, before adding that this weekend cannot be a one-off. “It’s good that people are making a stand, but it’s important that we get organised all over again when Trump decides to visit the UK.”

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Donald Trump ushers in a new era of kakistocracy: government by the worst people

By Mehdi Hasan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Trump will lead the whitest, most male cabinet in memory – a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

“What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone,” wrote the American poet James Russell Lowell in 1876, in a letter to his fellow poet Joel Benton. “Is it or is it not a result of democracy? Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?”

Is there a better, more apt description of the incoming Trump administration than “kakistocracy”, which translates from the Greek literally as government by the worst people? The new US president, as Barack Obama remarked on the campaign trail, is “uniquely unqualified” to be commander-in-chief. There is no historical analogy for a President Trump. He combines in a single person some of the worst qualities of some of the worst US presidents: the Donald makes Nixon look honest, Clinton look chaste, Bush look smart.

Trump began his tenure as president-elect in November by agreeing to pay out $25m to settle fraud claims brought against the now defunct Trump University by dozens of former students; he began the new year being deposed as part of his lawsuit against a celebrity chef. On 10 January, the Federal Election Commission sent the Trump campaign a 250-page letter outlining a series of potentially illegal campaign contributions. A day later, the head of the non-partisan US Office of Government Ethics slammed Trump’s plan to step back from running his businesses as “meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective”.

It cannot be repeated often enough: none of this is normal. There is no precedent for such behaviour, and while kakistocracy may be a term unfamiliar to most of us, this is what it looks like. Forget 1876: be prepared for four years of epic misgovernance and brazen corruption. Despite claiming in his convention speech, “I alone can fix it,” the former reality TV star won’t be governing on his own. He will be in charge of the richest, whitest, most male cabinet in living memory; a bizarre melange of the unqualified and the unhinged.

There has been much discussion about the lack of experience of many of Trump’s appointees (think of the incoming secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has no background in diplomacy or foreign affairs) and their alleged bigotry (the Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, denied a role as a federal judge in the 1980s following claims of racial discrimination, is on course to be confirmed as attorney general). Yet what should equally worry the average American is that Trump has picked people who, in the words of the historian Meg Jacobs, “are downright hostile to the mission of the agency they are appointed to run”. With their new Republican president’s blessing, they want to roll back support for the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and don’t give a damn how much damage they do in the process.

Take Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt describes himself on his LinkedIn page as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” and has claimed that the debate over climate change is “far from settled”.

The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson is Trump’s pick for housing and urban development, a department with a $49bn budget that helps low-income families own homes and pay the rent. Carson has no background in housing policy, is an anti-welfare ideologue and ruled himself out of a cabinet job shortly after the election. “Dr Carson feels he has no government experience,” his spokesman said at the time. “He’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”

The fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, who was tapped to run the department of labour, doesn’t like . . . well . . . labour. He prefers robots, telling Business Insider in March 2016: “They’re always polite . . . They never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex or race discrimination case.”

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the department of education, did not attend state school and neither did any of her four children. She has never been a teacher, has no background in education and is a champion of school vouchers and privatisation. To quote the education historian Diane Ravitch: “If confirmed, DeVos will be the first education secretary who is actively hostile to public education.”

The former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated for the role of energy secretary by Trump, promised to abolish the department that he has been asked to run while trying to secure his party’s presidential nomination in 2011. Compare and contrast Perry, who has an undergraduate degree in animal science but failed a chemistry course in college, with his two predecessors under President Obama: Dr Ernest Moniz, the former head of MIT’s physics department, and Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Berkeley. In many ways, Perry, who spent the latter half of 2016 as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, is the ultimate kakistocratic appointment.

“Do Trump’s cabinet picks want to run the government – or dismantle it?” asked a headline in the Chicago Tribune in December. That’s one rather polite way of putting it. Another would be to note, as the Online Etymology Dictionary does, that kakistocracy comes from kakistos, the Greek word for “worst”, which is a superlative of kakos, or “bad”, which “is related to the general Indo-European word for ‘defecate’”.

Mehdi Hasan has rejoined the New Statesman as a contributing editor and will write a fortnightly column on US politics

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Monroe: “National honor is national property of the highest value”

By President James Monroe from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Editor’s Note: The below is President James Monroe’s first inaugural address, delivered in 1817.   I should be destitute of feeling if I was not deeply affected by the strong proof which my fellow-citizens have given me of their confidence in calling me to the high office whose functions I am about to assume. As ...

Polk: “All citizens, whether native or adopted, are placed upon terms of precise equality”

By President James K. Polk from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

Editor’s Note: The below is President James K. Polk’s first inaugural address, delivered in 1845.   Fellow-Citizens: Without solicitation on my part, I have been chosen by the free and voluntary suffrages of my countrymen to the most honorable and most responsible office on earth. I am deeply impressed with gratitude for the confidence reposed ...

Labour can be populist and English without copying Donald Trump

By John Denham from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 20, 2017.

There's nothing deplorable about discussing the common interests of the people.

As Labour’s new populism gears up for Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent, it will be tested on voters who are, by a significant measure, more likely to see themselves as English. In the 2011 census, both constituencies scored "English" identity nearly 10 per cent higher than the English average and still 5 per cent higher than England outside of London.

It’s no surprise that both Ukip and the Tories have polled well in these places. In the 2015 general election there was strong correlation between feeling "English", or feeling "more English than British", and voting Ukip and Conservative. Indeed, amongst the "English not British" Ukip took about a third of the votes across England, and the Tories a fifth. Labour lagged below 15 per cent.

Labour’s problems may be getting worse. A recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University, showed "Englishness" gaining at the expense of "Britishness" in the year of Brexit. At the extremes, "English not British" rose by 5 per cent (from 14 per cent to 19 per cent), with ‘British not English’ falling by a similar amount. If past relationships hold, these voters will become harder for Labour to reach.

Although most people in England would favour an English Parliament, or English MPs alone voting on English issues, these have not yet become the political demands of an explicit nationalism as we might find in Wales, Scotland or Catalonia. Indeed, there’s no actual evidence of a direct link between feeling English and the way people vote. It well be that the underlying factors that make someone feel English are also those that incline them, overwhelmingly, to vote Brexit or to support Ukip.

We may identify the drivers of English identity - the declining power of the idea of Britain, the assertiveness of devolution, rapid migration and the EU - but we know little about the idea of England than lies behind these polls. There’s almost certainly more than one: the England of Stoke Central imaginations may not be identical to the Twickenham RFU car park on international day.

One of the most persistent and perceptive observers of alienated working class voters sheds some light on why these voters are turning towards their English roots. According to The Guardian’s John Harris:

"When a lot of people said ‘I’m English’, they often meant something like, ‘I’m not middle class, and I don’t want to be…. I’m also white, and coupled with the fact that I’m working class, I feel that somehow that puts me at the bottom of the heap, not least in the context of immigration. But I am who I am, and I’m not apologising for it.'" People who said "I’m English" seemed to be saying, 'I’m from somewhere' in a ways that politicians and the media did not."

Given Labour’s history in seats where support is ebbing away, it’s reasonable to think that the party’s target must be the voters who Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus describes as "left-wing nationalists". In this definition, "left-wing" attitudes tend to be be anti-capitalist, hostile to business, generous on benefits, support the welfare state and redistributive taxation. "Nationalist" attitudes are seen as isolationist, against immigration, disliking EU freedom of movement, thinking British means "born here" and that Britons should be put first.

For many in Labour, those nationalist attitudes might bring "a basket of deplorables" to mind.  In recent days both the Corbyn left, and centrist MPs like Alison McGovern and Wes Streeting, have warned against meeting these voters’ concerns. Progressive Labour populists must also calm those fears. But Labour will be doomed as a party of government it it can’t reach these voters (even if it does hang on in the forthcoming by-elections). The obstacles are formidable, but with the right language and framing, Labour may find an appeal that could cut through without alienating the party's more liberal support.

Just acknowledging that England, and the English, exist would be a start. The reaction to Birmingham mayoral candidate Sion Simon’s appeal to England in a campaign tweet simply emphasised how much of Labour prefers to say Britain, even when they mean England. We don’t need a swirl of St George crosses at every event; we just need to use the word in normal everyday conversation. At least we would sound like we live in the same country.

The defiant cry to be recognised and heard should trigger another Labour instinct. The demand that the nation should be run in the common interests of the people runs deep through radical history. Jeremy Corbyn reached for this with his talk of "elites rigging the system". But no ordinary English conversation ever talks about elites. Instead of "mini-me Trumpism", English Labour populism needs careful framing in the language of day-to-day talk. Labour's target should be not be the wealthy per se, but those powerful people whose behaviour undermines the national interest and by doing so undermines the rest of us.

This language of national interest, both conservatively patriotic and politically radical, meets the mood of the moment. The select committee challenges to Amazon, Google, Philip Green and Mike Ashley struck a chord precisely because they revealed something deeply true and unpleasant about this land. We can defend the national interest without invoking a racist response. Why are our railways sold to other governments, and our companies sold abroad for quick profit? Why should it be easier for a foreign gangster to buy a house in Surrey, and hide their ownership overseas, than for an English family to get their own home?

By asking what any change means to the people of England, we might bridge the divide on immigration. If the impact of migration is exacerbated by the pressure on housing and service, let Labour make it clear that the rate of immigration should not exceed the pace we can build homes for those already here, as well as any newcomers. The government must be able to expand services to meet additional needs. If every policy should work in the interests of the people of England, migration which improves our services, creates jobs and grows the economy is to be welcomed. It is hard to see a genuine liberal objection to posing the migration challenge in that way. With the exception of refugees, immigration policy cannot be designed to benefit the migrant more than the resident.

Let the test of every policy be whether it works in the interests of the people of England, or works only for a few. That’s a simple test that would appeal to widely shared values. It could be the foundation of a genuine Labour populism that speaks to England.

 

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The World Next Week: January 19, 2017

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Syrian peace talks are held in Kazakhstan, the Trump administration takes office, and the African Union holds a summit in Ethiopia.

For the Ukip press officer I slept with, the European Union was Daddy

By Tanya Gold from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

My Ukip lover just wanted to kick against authority. I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit.

I was a journalist for a progressive newspaper.

He was the press officer for the UK Independence Party.

He was smoking a cigarette on the pavement outside the Ukip conference in Bristol.

I sat beside him. It was a scene from a terrible film. 

He wore a tweed Sherlock Holmes coat. The general impression was of a seedy-posh bat who had learned to talk like Shere Khan. He was a construct: a press officer so ridiculous that, by comparison, Ukip supporters seemed almost normal. He could have impersonated the Queen Mother, or a morris dancer, or a British bulldog. It was all bravado and I loved him for that.

He slept in my hotel room, and the next day we held hands in the public gallery while people wearing Union Jack badges ranted about the pound. This was before I learned not to choose men with my neurosis alone. If I was literally embedded in Ukip, I was oblivious, and I was no kinder to the party in print than I would have been had I not slept with its bat-like press officer. How could I be? On the last day of the conference, a young, black, female supporter was introduced to the audience with the words – after a white male had rubbed the skin on her hand – “It doesn’t come off.” Another announcement was: “The Ukip Mondeo is about to be towed away.” I didn’t take these people seriously. He laughed at me for that.

After conference, I moved into his seedy-posh 18th-century house in Totnes, which is the counterculture capital of Devon. It was filled with crystal healers and water diviners. I suspect now that his dedication to Ukip was part of his desire to thwart authority, although this may be my denial about lusting after a Brexiteer who dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But I prefer to believe that, for him, the European Union was Daddy, and this compulsion leaked into his work for Ukip – the nearest form of authority and the smaller Daddy.

He used to telephone someone called Roger from in front of a computer with a screen saver of two naked women kissing, lying about what he had done to promote Ukip. He also told me, a journalist, disgusting stories about Nigel Farage that I cannot publish because they are libellous.

When I complained about the pornographic screen saver and said it was damaging to his small son, he apologised with damp eyes and replaced it with a photo of a topless woman with her hand down her pants.

It was sex, not politics, that broke us. I arrived on Christmas Eve to find a photograph of a woman lying on our bed, on sheets I had bought for him. That was my Christmas present. He died last year and I do not know how he would have coped with the reality of Brexit, of Daddy dying, too – for what would be left to desire?

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Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 is by turns rewarding and maddening – just like life

By Erica Wagner from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Auster’s epic new novel of immigration, politics and consciousness is rich but imperfect.

It’s a cliché, or a joke: the immigrant who arrives in the New World from the Old Country, to be greeted by an official who promptly renames him, mishearing the strange tongue that the arrival speaks. Paul Auster’s new novel begins: “According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred rubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, travelled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and then booked passage on a ship called the Empress of China, which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York Harbor on the first day of the twentieth century.”

Ferguson’s grandfather is called Isaac Reznikoff. Another Russian Jew advises him that it will be wiser to give his name as “Rockefeller” to the official. “You can’t go wrong with that.” But when it is his turn, “the weary immigrant blurted out in Yiddish, Ikh hob fargessen (I’ve forgotten)! And so it was that Isaac Reznikoff began his new life in America as Ichabod Ferguson.”

A joke or a fable: the way that so many stories begin in America, the stories of those who sailed past the Statue of Liberty and the words inscribed on its base, words to welcome the tired, the poor, those masses yearning to breathe free. And so Auster, in his first novel in seven years, presents the reader with an Everyman, Ferguson-who-is-not-Ferguson, not the man who stepped off the Empress of China but his grandson, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the cranky protagonist and hero of this tale.

Ichabod begat Stanley and Stanley begat Archie, who was born, like his creator, in Newark, New Jersey, in 1947. This nearly 900-page epic is a Bildungsroman, though it would be more accurate to call it a Bildungs-Bildungs-Bildungs-Bildungsroman, because Archie’s story is told not once but four times. There are that many versions of the protagonist: in each version, his life takes a different turn, and so everything that follows is altered.

Auster is something of a prophet in exile in his own land. His brand of existentialist postmodernism – in which characters with the author’s name might appear, in which texts loop back on themselves to question the act of writing, in which the music of chance can be heard loud and clear – has sometimes found greater favour in Europe than it has in his native United States. For example, City of Glass, the 1985 meta-detective novel that forms part of The New York Trilogy, will be adapted for the stage here this year.

But City of Glass, like all of Auster’s previous books, is a slender novel. The New York Trilogy as a whole comes in at just over 300 pages. Where much of Auster’s work is elliptical, 4 3 2 1 can be overwhelming, but that is precisely the point. The author creates a vast portrait of the turbulent mid-20th century by giving his protagonist this series of lives. The book is divided into sections that clearly mark which Ferguson we are getting: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 or 1.4.

Yet there is nothing supernatural about this journey lived and relived, as there was in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. The only magic involved is the magic of the novelist’s imagination, which allows both writer and reader to juggle realities as if they were balls in the air.

However, it is not as if one Ferguson is midshipman and another a circus performer, or one a loudmouth and another shy and retiring. The strength of this novel is that Ferguson remains himself while events shift around him, changing the course of his life. Ferguson’s father dies, or Ferguson’s father lives but divorces his mother, Rose. What happens then? Rose is a talented photographer; does she continue her work when Stanley prospers and they move to the suburbs, or does she take up golf and bridge? Ferguson is a good student, always a writer: does he go to Princeton or Columbia? What’s the difference between translating poetry in a Paris attic and working as a journalist for the Rochester Times-Union?

At its best, 4 3 2 1 is a full immersion in Ferguson’s consciousness, which, perhaps, is a consciousness not too far removed from Auster’s. His protagonist’s youth is wonderfully, vividly conveyed. Even if you don’t care about baseball, you’ll come to care about it because Ferguson does. The details of the young Ferguson’s life are carefully and lovingly created: the powder-blue Pontiac that his mother drives, the pot roast and cheese blintzes served at the Claremont Diner in Montclair, New Jersey – and  the floorboards in an old house that creak when two young lovers make their way between their separate rooms in the middle of the night. Auster builds a world of heartfelt, lived-in detail.

But this is a novel of politics, too. Ferguson is a young man during the tumult of the late 1960s, when dozens were killed and hundreds injured during riots in Newark in 1967; when students at Columbia occupied the campus in protest over the war in Vietnam; when young men such as Ferguson could be drafted to fight in that war.

It is in this last third of the novel that the book flags a little, as lists of events tumble on to the page: one paragraph contains the My Lai massacre, the killing of the Black Panther Fred Hampton and the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. At times, history lessons threaten to overwhelm the narrative, and Ferguson’s story/stories lose the texture and particularity that have made them so compelling. And its ending is abrupt, a tying-up of loose ends that fragments on the final page.

But then lives – real lives – have strange, abrupt endings, too. This is a rich, imperfect book, often rewarding, occasionally maddening. Again, like life, or at least if we’re lucky.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster is published by Faber & Faber (880pp, £20)

RICHARD KOEK/REDUX/EYEVINE

We Need a Two-Ocean Secretary of the Navy

By Paul Giarra from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

I speak only for myself, but I suspect that I’m not the only one disappointed to hear that Congressman Randy Forbes will apparently not be the next Navy secretary. Forbes is widely credited with making the strategic and operational case for a bigger and strategically re-oriented U.S. Navy, and in fact for making the case ...

Ways to Avoid Staring at Your Phone Before Bed

By Alice Roth from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 24, 2017.

Staring into screens at night can disrupt our sleep-wake cycles. Many experts recommend avoiding smartphones in the hour before bed—but that can be easier said than done. In this episode of If Our Bodies Could Talk, James Hamblin proposes an approach that might soon be sweeping the nation, and maybe the world: The Amazing Hour.

Donald Trump has told America it can be great without being good

By Laurie Penny from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The inauguration of the new president is so fraught because America sees itself as exceptional. 

I walked through Washington DC on Wednesday. I walked through the Mall, past the Capitol, down to the Trump International hotel behind its three rows of barricades. Excited, well-dressed white people were greeting one another outside, getting ready for the coronation that dare not speak its name. Like a thousand other reporters, I came here for the big story - but the story is, and always has been, America. That’s the point. And that’s the problem.

Outside Trump International, a scruffy, bearded gentleman in a Make America Great Again hat circled a pedicab plastered in American flags outside the grand hotel's Transylvanian facade, ringing his bell for custom. I got in, since everyone else was ignoring him. His name was Michael, and he was an ex-marine, and he was exuberant. “He’s the President now, and that means something,” he told me. “When he makes his statement, ‘Make America Great Again, that means everything about America, all the good and bad that comes with being American, that’s going to be on the up again. We’ve got the right president for the times. We always get the right president for the times.”

This is the sort of conversation I’ve been having all week, Trumpian in register, empty of actual fact, but dripping with the sort of symbolism normally reserved for royal and religious events. When Americans elect a president they are electing at once a politician and a king - and that very knowledge flies in the face of everything America tells itself about itself. America is not, officially, a fan of royalty, unless you count the British royal family, who are somehow a national obsession in a country that still thinks it's important for every child to be heavily armed in case the King of England comes to steal their lemonade.

But the iconography of kingship is everywhere. America is a fundamentally religious nation, and Americanism itself is a religion upon whose principles nobody can agree, a religion whose rituals are inculcated in every citizen from childhood by way of flags and pledges. The election of a President is not just the election of a political leader, but a head of state, someone with enormous symbolic power who holds the heart of the nation in his tiny grasping hands. You only need to observe the difficulty Americans have making fun of the President, whoever he may be. You can criticize him - rabidly so - but the mythos must not be undermined. Can you imagine anyone playing Hail To The Chief as David Cameron came into the room? America had The West Wing and House of Cards; the British have Spitting Image and In The Loop. Americans fire guns at their president, but they don't throw eggs.

America, as Ta-Nehisi Coates observes in his masterpiece Between The World And Me, “believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist, a lone champion standing between the white city of democracy and the terrorists, despots, barbarians, and other enemies of civilization. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error.” The anointing of Donald J Trump as de facto world emperor is among the most mortal errors in the short and savage history of the barely-United States, but the grand story of American Exceptionalism cannot allow this sort of error. It must, somehow, come right. Even for those who, scant months ago, were declaring the end of the American dream, are clutching for their blankets, hearing the dreadful alarm and hammering the snooze button.

America is the empire of cognitive dissonance. Its continued existence relies on the conviction that it is great in every sense, that as a nation it is uniquely democratic, uniquely just, uniquely free. In order for these ideals to sit alongside its history of genocide and conquest, the daily lived reality of racism, the evil legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, the myth of America the Great has to do a hell of a lot of work. The Obama administration did its best to resolve that cognitive dissonance by insisting that America could be not just great, but good - that the psychic wounds of the past could be soothed with ritual if not actual reparation. The genius of its strategy was to appeal to a vision of peaceful inclusivity that extended rather than inverted the story of America The Just. This strategy was also its failing, because it had reckoned without an America whose great dark fairytale involved a hell of a lot more denial.

On Pennsylvania avenue in the rushing dark, Michael and I had acquired another passenger, Tracy Douglas, a gentleman in his sixties who wanted to go to the White House and invited me to ride with him while he explained how Trump was going to return patriotism to the people. The pedicab pulled in to let a howling motorcade go by. “That’s The President,” said Douglas. He meant Obama. You could hear the capitalisation in his voice. He had no love for the Democrats - he claimed, in fact, to have worked for the Bush administration - but he still pronounced the title with reverence.

This is why so many millions allowed themselves to be persuaded, against every scrap of evidence, that Obama was not American. This is the logic of the birther movement that launched Cheeto Mussolini. It was not enough to label the first black president to be incompetent, reverse-racist or, worse still, a socialist - he was clearly none of those things, but facts have never precisely been invited to the Tea Party. The symbolic violence of the Obamas in the White House, their grace and magnamity, their sheer maddening classiness, created a cognitive dissonance that drove parts of White America quite out of its mind. They had to be Un-American.

Trump does away with a lot of this cognitive dissonance by making it alright for America to be great without being good. Great without good is making deals rather than dealing in diplomacy. Great without good is a playground bully who never gets told no. Great without good is being proud of being white. Great without good is not as discomfiting as it ought to be.

One thing I hadn’t quite clocked before I started this trip was how much the grand story of American Exceptionalism matters to the left, as much as it does to the right. How very much all but the most iconoclastic of US citizens are committed to maintaining that grand story and finding their place within it. It’s not an inherently dreadful idea, but it’s easy to twist, and today the best and most naive instinct of American progressives - their basic faith in the machinations of a democracy that is little more than an auction house for vested interests - are being used against them.

The biggest obstacles to any democratic resistance to Trump are the rituals of American democracy themselves. The pomp and circumstance of confirmation, inauguration, cabinet selection - all of it contributes to the normalisation of what ought never to have been permitted to seem normal. All around Washington DC, someone has been tearing down the signs directing protesters to convene on inauguration day - the neon posters have been clawed half-away, as if in haste.

That is not how you prepare a city for the accession of an ordinary political leader. It is how you prepare for the coronation of a king. This week, in this city, America is about to anoint an Emperor. It will take a great deal for someone to point out that the Emperor not only has no clothes, but is starring in his very own pornographic spoof of the presidential mode that plays perfectly to the auto-erotic tendency in American politics.

Moderate conservatives will be the first to normalise the new imperial nudity.. At the conventions, moderate conservatives were the most miserable people at every party, drinking with the grim dedication of funeral guests . They could summon disdain for Trump for as long as he was turning the Republican Party into his own personal reality-tv foodfight, but now he's President, that instinctive faith in institutional authority is kicking in. They may not respect the man, but they must respect the office, The Congress, The Senate. They must trust in the ritual apparatus of American democracy to save them, or abandon that sense of normality that lets them get up and do their jobs every day, the thing that some people call sanity. This, too, is how it happens. Tyranny happens when the idea of nationhood makes resistance to tyranny impossible.

Nobody is ever finally going to agree about what America is, but there a great many Americans hold in their hearts a half-formed idea of nationhood that is incompatible with racial justice. It must not be forgotten - it must be repeated like a refrain over these four years and more - that it was racism that crowned Donald Trump. Not liberal equivocation, not leftist cowardice, not sexism, not working-class disenchantment - all of these things were and remain real but on their own they would never have stopped Hillary Clinton. White America wanted Trump to restore its pride. White America wanted a king who would pummel through its pain with his tiny entitled fists.

This is why the most heartfelt cry of anti-Trump protesters today is "Not My President". It’s the sort of symbolic denial that would never make sense in Britain - Trump, after all, is the President. I’m very cross with Theresa May, but I’d never try to claim that she’s not the Prime Minister - she is, and that’s the problem. For Americans, though, refusing to crown Trump in their own American story has symbolic value. It’s a way of resisting the unique power of kings.

In folktales and fairytales, the king is connected to the land. A bad, reckless king makes the land sicken, the people suffer, the crops fail; a good king brings rich harvests and success in battle. This is the level on which Americans of every political background understand the presidency. The President is more than a man, more than a politician - he is a little god, and too much resistance in thought and deed is heresy. It is a heresy that Americans will have to contemplate as they stare down the barrel of four years with a vengeful cartoon narcissist, half toddler, half tyrant, squatting in the Oval Office with his evil aviary of hawks and vultures.

As Michael dropped us off outside the glowing temple of the White House. I could not help but recall the group of young activists I met last week. They, too, believed in the story of America, to an extent that surprised me. Their story, however, was different. “Someday,” the young woman who convened the group told me, “someday it will eally have mattered what we did in this time. It will matter that we fought back. That will just matter for the story of America - like, 'did we give up?’ ‘How did we fight back?' ‘Did we say no to fascism, or did we let it happen to us?'"

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The NS podcast #193: Theresa and Trump

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The New Statesman podcast.

This week, Stephen and Anoosh explore what Theresa May has said about Brexit, what that means for a second Scottish referendum and what might be Labour’s best line of response. Julia Rampen's Back-Bencher-Of-The-Week is Michael Gove, for his Times interview with Donald Trump. And You Ask Us: can you get away with anything if you’re on the right?

 

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.

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India and Pakistan’s dangerous war of words

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The arms build-up in the region has raised the nuclear stakes

Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

By Ryan Gilbey from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

End to cosy consensus in the European Parliament

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Antonio Tajani’s election as president brings some welcome debate

As Donald Trump once asked, how do you impeach a President?

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Starting the process is much easier than you might think. 

Yes, on Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. And no, you can’t skip the next four years.

But look on the bright side. Those four years might never happen. On the one hand, he could tweet the nuclear codes before the day is out. On the other, his party might reach for their own nuclear button – impeachment. 

So, how exactly can you impeach a President? Here is our rough guide.

OK, what does impeachment actually mean?

Impeachment is the power to remove an elected official for misconduct. Here’s the relevant clause of the US Constitution:

“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Impeachment is actually a legacy of British constitutional history, and dates back as far as 1376, but according to our own parliamentary website, in the UK “this procedure is considered obsolete”. 

It’s up to the US Congress to decide whether to impeach and convict a President. Both houses are controlled by the Republicans, so impeaching Trump would mean turning against one who is – technically at least – one of their own. Since he’s already insulted the neighbouring country, supported discrimination against Muslim immigrants and mocked a disabled reporter, their impeachment threshold seems pretty high. But let’s imagine he surpasses himself. What next?

The impeachment process

Members of the House of Representatives – the lower chamber of the Congress – can start the impeachment process. They in turn may be encouraged to do so by voters. For example, there is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to people who tried to impeach Barack Obama. One Impeach Obama supporter simply gave his reason as stopping the President from “pushing his agenda”. Another wanted to do so on the grounds of gross incompetence...

But for an impeachment attempt to actually work, the impeacher needs to get the support of the house. If a majority agree with the idea of impeaching the elected official, they nominate members to act as prosecutors during the subsequent trial. This takes place in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. In most impeachments, the Senate acts as judge and jury, but when a President is impeached, the chief justice of the United States presides.     

Two-thirds of the Senate must vote for impeachment in order to convict. 

What are the chances of impeaching Donald Trump?

So if Trump does something that even he can’t tweet away, and enough angry voters email their representatives, Congress can begin the process of impeachment. But will that be enough to get him out?

It’s often assumed that Richard Nixon was kicked out because he was impeached for the cover up known as the Watergate Scandal. In fact, we’ll never know, because he resigned before the House could vote on the process.

Two decades later, the House got further with Bill Clinton. When it emerged Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, an intern, he initially denied it. But after nearly 14 hours of debate, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives decided to impeach him on grounds including perjury and obstruction of justice.

In the Senate trial, Clinton’s defenders argued that his actions did not threaten the liberty of the people. The majority of Senators voted to acquit him. 

The only other Presidential impeachment took place in 1868, when President Andrew Johnson, removed a rabble-rouser from his Cabinet. The guilty vote fell short of the two-thirds majority, and he was acquitted.

So, what’s the chances of impeaching Trump? I’ll leave you with some numbers…

 

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The “Yolocaust” project conflates hate with foolish but innocent acts of joy

By India Bourke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

A montage of selfies taken at Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial layered above images of concentration camps risks shutting visitors out of respectful commemoration.

Ten years ago I visited Berlin for the first time. It was a cold and overcast day – the kind of grey that encourages melancholy. When my friends and I came across the city’s Holocaust Memorial, with its maze of over 2,000 concrete slabs, we refrained from taking photos of each other exploring the site. “Might it be disrespectful?” asked one of my non-Jewish (and usually outrageously extroverted) friends. Yes, probably, a bit, we concluded, and moved softly and slowly on through the Memorial’s narrow alleys.

But not all days are gloomy, even in Berlin. And not all visitors to the Memorial had the same reaction as us.

A photo project called “Yolocaust” has collected together images of the Memorial and selfies taken there that young people from around the world have posted to Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and Grindr. In the 12 photos featured on the website, one man juggles pink balls, a girl does yoga atop a pillar, another practises a handstand against a slab’s base. The last of these is tagged “#flexiblegirl #circus #summer”.

Most of the images seem more brainless than abusive. But the implication seems to be that such behaviour risks sliding into insult – a fear all too painfully embodied in the first image of the series: a shot of two guys leaping between pillars with the tag-line: “Jumping on dead Jews @ Holocaust Memorial.”

Grim doesn’t begin to cover it, but the artist who collated the photos has thought up a clever device for retribution. As your cursor scrolls or hovers over each photo, a second image is then revealed beneath. These hidden black-and-white photographs of the Holocaust show countless emaciated bodies laid out in mass graves, or piled up against walls.

Even though they are familiar for those who learned about the Nazi concentration camps at school, these historic scenes are still too terrible and I cannot look at them for more than a few seconds before something in my chest seizes up. In fact, it’s only on second glance that I see the artist has also super-imposed the jumping men into the dead bodies – so that their sickening metaphor “jumping on dead Jews” is now made to appear actual.

The result is a powerful montage, and its message is an important one: that goofy, ill-considered behaviour at such sites is disrespectful, if not worse. Just take the woman who urinated on a British war memorial, or the attack on a Holocaust memorial in Hungary.

But while desecration and hate should not be tolerated anywhere, especially not at memorials, does juggling fall into the same category?

I can’t help but feel that the Yolocaust project is unfair to many of the contemporary subjects featured. After all, this is not Auschwitz but the centre of a modern city. If public-space memorials are intended to be inhabited, then surely they invite use not just as places for contemplation, grieving and reflection but also for being thankful for your life and your city on a sunny day?

The Memorial in Berlin is clearly designed to be walked in and around.  Even the architect, Peter Eisenman, has been reported saying he wants visitors to behave freely at the site – with children playing between the pillars and families picnicking on its fringes.

So how do we determine what is offensive behaviour and what is not?

A section at the bottom of the Yolocaust website also suggests (in rather sarcastic tones) that there are no prescriptions on how visitors should behave, “at a site that marks the death of 6 million people”. Though in fact a code of conduct on the memorial’s website lists the following as not permitted: loud noise, jumping from slab to slab, dogs or pets, bicycles, smoking and alcohol.

Only one of Yolocaust’s 12 photos breaks this code: the first and only explicitly insulting image of the jumping men. Another six show people climbing or sitting atop the pillars but most of these are a world away in tone from the jumpers.

The blurb at the bottom of the webpage says that the project intends to explore “our commemorative culture”. But by treating the image of the yoga performer – with an accompanying montage of her balancing amid dead bodies – in the same way as the jumping men, the artist seems to conflate the two.

In fact, the girl practising a yoga balance could be seen as a hopeful – if overtly cutesy and hipster – act of reverence. “Yoga is connection with everything around us,” says her tag beneath. And even if climbing the slabs is frowned upon by some, it could also be read as an act of joy, something to cherish when faced with such a dark history.

In an era when populist German politicians are using the past – and sentiment towards Holocaust memorials themselves – to rev up anti-immigrant, nationalist feeling, the need for careful and inclusive readings of the role of memorials in our society has never been greater.

Yolocaust may have intended to provide a space for reflection on our commemorative behaviour but the result feels worryingly sensationalist, if not censorious. Instead of inviting others in to the act of respectful commemoration, has it risked shutting people out?

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Why I refuse to swallow the "clean eating" craze

By Rachel Cooke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Clean Eating – the Dirty Truth reveals the dodgy science behind the restrictive eating trend.

Some years ago, my sister fell seriously ill just as she was about to take her university finals. No one knew what was wrong, but we suspected – even if none of us dared to say the word aloud – that she had some form of cancer. How else to explain the vomiting and exhaustion, the pewter circles beneath her eyes? Many tests later, we learned the truth. She has coeliac disease. In the circumstances, this was wondrous news. All she had to do to be better was to give up gluten. In the years since, however, the sense of escape has gradually dimmed. What a pain it is. How lovely it would be for her to be able to scoff a bowl of proper pasta, to demolish a pizza along with everyone else.

It’s thanks to my sister that my tolerance for the swollen ranks of the gluten-free brigade is even lower than it might ordinarily be (which is to say, about as low as the Dead Sea, and then some). Coeliac disease is not a fad but a lifelong autoimmune disorder affecting 1 per cent of the population. It is exasperating to have to listen to non-sufferers spouting so much pseudo­science on the matter of gluten – lies and half-truths out of which some of them are making a great deal of money – though if there’s one thing that is more exasperating, it’s those same people refusing to explain themselves when confronted with expertise.

In Clean Eating – the Dirty Truth, (19 January, 9pm), a Horizon film presented by Dr Giles Yeo, a scientist at Cambridge University’s Metabolic Diseases Unit, the Hemsley sisters, Jasmine and Melissa, who eschew not just gluten but grains in their bestselling cookery books, were notable by their absence, having declined to appear. As Yeo tossed bones into a pan of simmering water, preparing to make their broth (“the ultimate superfood”), my blood was already boiling. What’s wrong, girls? Lost your nerve?

Yeo’s film, righteous and entertaining (if not, perhaps, sufficiently savage), took as its starting point the broad idea – promoted by the Hemsleys, among others – that while some foods aid “wellness”, others actively make us ill. The beauty of this open-ended approach was that it allowed him to show that clean eating is merely one end of the 21st-century food fad spectrum. At the other can be found people such as Robert O Young, who believes that alkaline foods can cure terminal diseases.

A one-time Mormon missionary, last year Young was convicted by an American court of practising medicine without a licence; as Yeo also revealed, in 2010, he charged a young British woman, Naima Mohamed, $77,000 for a stay at his “miracle” ranch in California not long before she died from breast cancer. The two ends of the spectrum are not unconnected. It was Young, for instance, who inspired the alkaline eating “revolution” of Natasha Corrett of the successful Honestly Healthy website. She, too, preferred not to appear in Yeo’s documentary.

The film built from sceptical jauntiness to what seemed to me to be a rather careful anger (perhaps the lawyers had been at it). One clean-eating star who did agree to meet Yeo was “Deliciously” Ella Woodward (now Mills), and with her help, he made a sweet potato stew, a photo of which he then uploaded to Instagram (social media and clean eating go together like linguine and crab).

But thereafter, he got out of the kitchen and on to a plane, eager to dismantle the diktats not only of Young, but also of his compatriots William Davis (the Hemsleys’ guru), a former cardiac doctor who believes that all human beings should give up wheat, and Colin Campbell, who advocates an entirely plant-based diet (Mills read Campbell’s bestseller The China Study before embarking on her own experiments).

Skilfully, Yeo queried the scientific evidence for these people’s claims and, in the case of Young, revealed his sweaty charlatanism. It was all rather, well, delicious, though I wanted more. Restricted by time and format, Yeo could not take the next step. What the rest of us need to do now is to call out the publishers and newspaper editors who enthusiastically peddle the diets of Ella and co, seemingly without recourse even to the most basic kind of fact-checking. 

BBC

Why Is Iran Imprisoning Iranian-Americans?

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

What is behind Iran's latest seizures of expatriates visiting from the United States? An insecure regime fearful of close ties with the West, writes CFR's Ray Takeyh.

"By now, there was no way back for me": the strange story of Bogdan Stashinsky

By Gavin Jacobson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Serhii Plokhy’s The Man with the Poison Gun is a gripping, remarkable Cold War spy story.

On the morning of 12 August 1961, a few hours before the supreme leader of East Germany, Walter Ulbricht, announced the sealing of the border between East and West Berlin, a funeral took place for a four-month-old boy at the Rohrbeck Evangelical Cemetery in Dallgow. Numerous KGB agents and officers of the East German ministry of security were in attendance, but the boy’s parents were missing. Instead, Bogdan Stashinsky and Inge Pohl were preparing their imminent escape from Soviet-occupied territory and into the West. They had intended to flee the following day, but the funeral provided a moment of opportunity when their surveillance was relaxed. If they wanted to go, they had to go now.

“The KGB operatives present at the child’s funeral were puzzled by the parents’ absence,” a Soviet intelligence officer later wrote. “By the end of the day on 13 August 1961, it was clear that the Stashinskys had gone to the West. Everyone who knew what tasks the agent had carried out in Munich in 1957 and 1959, and what could happen if Stashinsky were to talk, was in shock.”

Those “tasks” were the state-sponsored assassinations of Lev Rebet and Stepan Bandera, two exiled leaders of the Ukrainian anti-communist movement who had been living in Munich. Stashinsky, one of the KGB’s top hitmen, and the focus of Serhii Plokhy’s gripping book, had been given the task of tracking and killing them with a custom-built gun that sprayed a lethal, yet undetectable poison. It was only after Stashinsky’s defection to the Central Intelligence Agency, and then to the West German security services, that the cause of Rebet and Bandera’s deaths was finally known.

For decades, the KGB denied any involvement in the assassinations, and the CIA has never been entirely sure about Stashinsky’s motives. Was he telling the truth when he confessed to being the assassin, or was he, as some still claim, a loyal agent, sent to spread disinformation and protect the true killer? Plokhy has now put to rest the many theories and speculations. With great clarity and compassion, and drawing from a trove of recently declassified files from CIA, KGB and Polish security archives, as well as interviews conducted with former heads of the South African police force, he chronicles one of the most curious espionage stories of the Cold War.

Stashinsky’s tale is worthy of John le Carré or Ian Fleming. Plokhy even reminds us that The Man With the Golden Gun, in which James Bond tries to assassinate his boss with a cyanide pistol after being brainwashed by the Soviets, was inspired by the Stashinsky story. But if spy novels zero in on a secret world – tradecraft, double agents, defections, and the moral fallout that comes from working in the shadows – Plokhy places this tale in the wider context of the Cold War and the relentless ideological battle between East and West.

The story of Stashinsky’s career as a triggerman for the KGB plays out against the backdrop of the fight for Ukrainian independence after the Second World War. He was a member of the underground resistance against the Soviet occupation, but was forced to become an informer for the secret police after his family was threatened. After he betrayed a resistance cell led by Ivan Laba, which had assassinated the communist author Yaroslav Halan, Stashinsky was ostracised by his family and was offered the choice of continuing his higher education, which he could no longer afford, or joining the secret police.

“It was [only] a proposal,” he said later, “but I had no alternative to accepting it and continuing to work for the NKVD. By now, there was no way back for me.” He received advanced training in Kyiv and Moscow for clandestine work in the West and became one of Moscow’s most prized assets. In 1957, after assassinating Rebet, he was awarded the
Order of the Red Banner, one of the oldest military decorations in the Soviet Union.

Plokhy’s book is about more than the dramas of undercover work; it is also an imaginative approach to the history of Cold War international relations. It is above all an affective tale about the relationship between individual autonomy and state power, and the crushing impact the police state had on populations living behind the Iron Curtain. Stashinsky isn’t someone of whom we should necessarily approve: he betrayed his comrades in the Ukrainian resistance, lied to his family about who he was and killed for a living. Yet we sympathise with him the more he, like so many others, turns into a defenceless pawn of the Communist Party high command, especially after he falls in love with his future wife, Inge.

One of the most insightful sections of Plokhy’s book converges on Stashinsky’s trial in West Germany in 1962 over the killings of Rebet and Bandera, and how he was given a reduced sentence because it was deemed that he had been an instrument of the Soviet state. The decision was influenced by German memories of collective brainwashing under the Third Reich. As one of the judges put it: “The accused was at the time in question a poor devil who acted automatically under pressure of commands and was misled and confused ideologically.”

What makes Plokhy’s book so alarmingly resonant today is how Russia still uses extrajudicial murder as a tool of foreign policy. In 2004 Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western future president of Ukraine, was poisoned with dioxin; two years later Aleksandr Litvinenko, the Russian secret service defector, unknowingly drank radioactive polonium at a hotel in London. The Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya survived a poisoning in 2004 after drinking tea given to her by an Aeroflot flight attendant (she was murdered two years later). The collapse of the Soviet Union did not bring the end of the Russian threat (Putin, remember, is ex-KGB). As le Carré noted in a speech in the summer of 1990, “The Russian Bear is sick, the Bear is bankrupt, the Bear is frightened of his past, his present and his future. But the Bear is still armed to the teeth and very, very proud.”

The Man with the Poison Gun: a Cold War Spy Story by Serhii Plokhy is published by Oneworld (365pp, £18.99)

SIPA PRESS/REX

Is Theresa May’s Brexit Plan B an elaborate bluff?

From Analysis. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The prime minister has threatened to turn Britain into a low-tax Singapore of the west

Nigeria’s armed forces continue to stumble in the fight against Boko Haram

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

THE fighting between the jihadists of Boko Haram and the Nigerian government has uprooted almost 2m people in north-eastern Nigeria; more than 5m are in need of food aid. The misery in the region was compounded on January 17th, when a Nigerian military jet mistakenly bombed an informal refugee camp sheltering thousands of people displaced by the violence.

At least 76 people were killed and more than 100 were injured when the bombs hit Rann camp, home to 43,000 people. Among the dead were six Red Cross volunteers and three Médecins Sans Frontières contractors.

The air strike—a “regrettable operational mistake”, according to Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari—reinforces long-standing doubts over the level of training and skills of Nigeria’s security forces, and the efficacy of its counter-terrorism operation in the region. Although soldiers are no longer sent off to fight without boots or bullets by generals sitting safely in the capital, as regularly happened two years ago, deficiencies in training and equipment are still evident.

The botched strike appears to have been caused by a combination of faulty intelligence...Continue reading

Why is Alan Dein so good at getting his interview subjects to talk?

By Antonia Quirke from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Aftermath never traps or exhausts his subjects – he just gets them to open up.

“I like to feel like I’m a conduit, an enabler – does that sound soppy?” After listening to a couple of episodes of his exceptional new series, Aftermath (23 January, 8pm), I wanted, not for the first time, to know what drives the oral historian Alan Dein to keep making the sorts of radio programmes that he has made for the past 20 years. These include the award-winning Lives in a Landscape and Don’t Hang Up – ostensibly uncomplicated exchanges with people going about their daily lives, sometimes revealing very little, sometimes more than you can bear. (Landmark radio initiatives such as The Listening Project owe a great deal to Dein.)

In Don’t Hang Up recently, a woman mentioned that her grandmother had flown herself across Africa in a biplane in the 1930s. Dein always seems to have the same sort of response to any such information: lightly intrigued sympathy, shot through with an implacability, like a ship’s figurehead battling into the elements.

In Aftermath, he explores what happens to a community after it has been at the centre of a nationally significant event: Hungerford; Hyde in Manchester, post-Shipman; Morecambe Bay. Some of the most memorable parts of the first programme involve Dein simply driving around the streets of Hungerford with a resident. As the car’s indicator softly clicks, the interviewee points out the plethora of yew trees in that pretty Berkshire town. A great place to make cricket bats, the man thinks out loud, as Dein unhurriedly steers the conversation back in the vague direction of the shootings.

Dein never seems to set traps for his interlocutors, never exhausts them. And yet unhealed wounds are frequently bled. Has he always been good at getting people to talk? He tells me that when his dad took him as a kid to watch Arsenal play in the 1970s, he found he was always more interested in the crowd than in the match, in “looking at faces and wondering about how they spoke to each other”. He says that one question guaranteed to get someone talking is, “Why do you live where you do?” All things will unfurl from this: personal circumstances, family history, work. Communicated in that quintessentially undramatic Dein way, like puddles gently drying in a courtyard.

GETTy

Meet Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far left candidate gaining momentum in the French election

By Philip Kyle from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Ahead of the socialist candidate in the polls, the leftwinger has become a YouTube star and has more followers than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

There are seven of them: six men and one woman will face each other tonight in the last of three debates leading to the first round of the French left’s primary on Sunday. Seven, a holy number: how could it possibly go wrong?

With the notable exception of 2002 – which saw Jacques Chirac face far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen – a socialist candidate has been in the second round of every presidential election since 1974. But given Marine Le Pen’s steady and comfortable advance in the polls, France will probably see one of its two main parties, the conservative Republicans or the Socialist party, excluded from the second round. But what if both of them were?

Two serious contenders are gaining momentum. One of them is Emmanuel Macron, François Hollande’s former economy minister currently third in the polls, and the other is Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mélenchon is 65. He is no newbie in French politics. He joined the Socialist party in the 1970s, was a senator for years and served as a junior minister from 2000 to 2002. He has always been an outspoken character and has certainly always been heavily to the left of the socialist party. It was no surprise to see him quit the party when it fell into disarray in 2008.

He launched the boldly named “Left Party” and stood for the 2012 presidential election, finishing in a respectable fourth place behind Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Le Pen with 11.1 per cent of the votes. During the presidential campaign, he attracted media attention with his fiery speeches, brash style and, ironically, distinct hate of…the media.

Mélenchon has over the years very cleverly positioned himself as the people’s candidate. He has unfairly been referred to as a populist by his detractors. Anyone who has spent a little bit of time one-on-one with him will tell you that he has strong beliefs and is driven by more than just personal ambition.

Mélenchon passionately defends the idea of a new Republic that gives power back to the people and abolishes the “presidential monarchy”, wants more fiscal justice, a review of the European treaties to put an end to “austerity policies”, and a new ecological order which would see France drop nuclear power.

In more ways than one, his agenda is a traditional French hard-left platform, but the package is new. And therein lies his popularity.

Mélenchon is not just a man of strong beliefs, he is also an astute politician. At a time when many voters have become disillusioned with party politics, Mélenchon has freed himself of party bonds and is campaigning on a platform aiming to reach far beyond his traditional voters. He has branded his movement La France insoumise “Unsubmissive France” and uses similar rhetoric to citizen-based movements like Los Indignados in Spain.

To attract younger voters, Mélenchon successfully took to YouTube. He recently commented on having over 140,000 followers on the video-sharing website, which is more than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and boasted about reaching 10 million views. On 5 February, he will hold a campaign rally in Lyons and in Paris. He will be physically present in Lyons and his hologram will address the crowds in Paris.

Unlike Macron, he is proud of his left heritage and dreams of nothing less than seeing the Socialist candidate leave the race and support him as the candidate of a unified left. The polls are currently placing him ahead of whoever wins the left’s primary.

Mélenchon is successfully capitalising on left-wing voters’ disappointment in the Socialist party following Hollande’s presidency. He is holding a rally today in Florange, an industrial town that symbolises the French industrial crisis, as the state has tried and failed over the years to save its steelworks.

Most of the candidates in the left’s primary were government ministers during Hollande’s term. Some of them resigned, accusing the French President of not delivering what he was elected for, but none of them can, like Mélenchon, claim that they had no part in what is widely perceived as a failed presidency.

At this stage, it is difficult to see how Mélenchon could reach the second round of the presidential election, but the incredible dynamic of his campaign is redefining the French left. If on voting day he confirms his lead on the Socialist candidate, the Socialist party risks imploding. At tonight’s debate, Mélenchon will definitely be the elephant in the room.

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A shift to the right: The European Parliament’s new president represents a shift to the right

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  A new president has a shaky coalition and a tough agenda Print Headline:  A shift to the right Print Fly Title:  The European Parliament UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  A shift to the right Location:  BRUSSELS Main image:  Wiles over charisma Wiles over charisma AT FIRST glance the European Parliament might look invulnerable to the populist wave sweeping across Europe. Antonio Tajani, a centre-right Italian who won the presidency of the chamber on January 17th, is the sort of bland functionary the European Union specialises in. Little on Mr Tajani’s CV grabs the eye, bar an affection for Italy’s long-defunct monarchy and a spell as spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, the bunga-bungatastic former prime minister. His victory was ...

The art of the deal: Britain shouldn’t get too excited by the prospect of a trade agreement with Donald Trump

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Don’t get too excited by the prospect of a trade agreement with President Trump Print Headline:  The art of the deal Print Fly Title:  Trade with America UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  The art of the deal Main image:  20170121_BRD001_0.jpg IT WAS music to Brexiteers’ ears. In an interview with the Times and Germany’s Bild, Donald Trump revealed that he wanted a trade agreement between America and Britain “very quickly”. Less widely reported was Mr Trump’s refusal to specify how far up his list of priorities Britain would be after he took office on January 20th. Trade deals have assumed fresh importance since Theresa May confirmed this week that Britain would leave the EU’s single market and customs union, allowing it to sign trade agreements of its own. Unfortunately the probable benefits of ...

Politics this week

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Headline:  Politics this week UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Main image:  20170121_wwp001_290.jpg After hard, soft and then red, white and blue, Theresa May announced a “clean” Brexit. In her most important speech yet on the issue, Britain’s prime minister set out a position for quitting the EU that includes leaving the single market and customs union. Mrs May said she would seek the best possible trade terms with Europe and be a “good neighbour”, but that no deal would be better than a bad deal for Britain. Donald Trump held out the promise of a trade agreement with America after praising Britain’s Brexit choice. See article.  Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, responded to Mrs May’s Brexit speech with vows to hold the EU together and block any British “cherry-picking” in the negotiations. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, promised to work for a fair deal for both sides, saying: “We are not in a hostile mood.”  Northern Ireland’s Assembly collapsed amid a scandal ...

One Zuma to another Zuma?

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

ALTHOUGH a jolly spot for surf and sun, Durban is hardly a centre of African diplomacy. So it was a surprise when Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the outgoing head of the African Union (AU), chose to deliver the first-ever “State of the Continent” speech there last month instead of at the AU’s grand headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s speech focused on high-minded plans for education and agriculture. She acknowledged “pockets of problems” in war-ravaged Burundi, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, but only in passing. Journalists fought to stay awake. The thin crowd had to be cajoled into applause. South African cabinet ministers due to attend sent lackeys instead. Back in Addis, the event fed the widely held view that Ms Dlamini-Zuma spent her term at the AU with one foot in South Africa, where she is jockeying to succeed her ex-husband, Jacob Zuma, as president in 2019. 

Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s four-year term as head of the AU’s executive arm should have ended six months ago but was extended when its members could not agree on a successor. They will gather again from January 22nd and vote for her replacement. Among the...Continue reading

A boom in qat in Ethiopia and Kenya

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Qat, a tonic?

“THIS is qat,” explains Teklu Kaimo, gesturing to the wooded field behind him. He started growing it in 1976, and over the years its soft, green leaves have brought him a measure of prosperity. He has a modest plot of land, 11 children and money to pay their way through school.

A short walk down the hill, the central marketplace of this part of southern Ethiopia comes alive with farmers, merchants and salesmen as the sun sets. Young men sprint down streets with bundles of fresh qat leaves on their shoulders, as traders call out prices and haul the bags aboard lorries. They are bound for Addis Ababa, the capital, where the following morning they will be sold to qat-chewers in the city, or packed onto planes bound for neighbouring Djibouti and Somaliland.

Ethiopia’s trade in qat, a mild stimulant native to this part of Africa, is booming. Where once cultivation and consumption were restricted to the Muslim lowlands towards the country’s east, today it is grown and masticated throughout the country. Nearly half a million hectares of land are thought to be devoted to it, some two-and-half times...Continue reading

Terrorists returning home to Tunisia

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

“IF BEN GUERDANE had been located next to Falluja, we would have liberated Iraq.” So (reportedly) said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, before he was killed a decade ago. He was referring reverentially to a town in south-eastern Tunisia that is one of the world’s biggest exporters of jihadists. No place better epitomises the challenges facing Tunisia’s government as it tries to consolidate a wobbly democracy six years after the revolution that toppled the old dictatorship.

Hundreds of Tunisians marked the anniversary of the revolution on January 14th by taking to the streets to demand jobs. The protests began in Ben Guerdane before spreading to other poor places, such as Sidi Bouzid, Meknassi and Gafsa, where locals blocked the route of Beji Caid Essebsi, the president, who was in town to mark the anniversary. “Work is our right,” yelled the protesters, using the slogans of 2011.

Work is indeed a right enshrined in the constitution, adopted in 2014. But the unemployment rate of 16% is higher than it was before the revolution. The rate for youngsters and those in the countryside is higher still....Continue reading

Mozambique’s default

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

IN 2014 Mozambique seemed a good place to host the IMF’s “Africa Rising” conference. The economy was buoyant, having grown by about 7% a year for a decade. Offshore gas promised riches. Investors were optimistic, so much so that, in 2013, they snapped up $850m of bonds issued by a state-owned tuna-fishing company, with temptingly high yields.

But Mozambique’s rise has halted. Those “tuna bonds” were the first mis-step in a widening scandal that led the government to say on January 16th that it would default on its debt.

The government’s financial difficulties arise partly from a downturn in commodity prices that caused economic growth to slump to 3.4% in 2016 (though it should improve this year). Yet the main reason the government is in a pickle is its own fecklessness. The state-owned tuna company that issued the bonds never caught many fish. That is scarcely surprising since much of the money it raised went toward buying gunboats instead of the fishing sort. When it became clear that the company could not honour its debts, bondholders agreed to swap the bonds it had issued for government ones. Yet before the...Continue reading

Bahrain is still hounding its Shia

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Protesters may topple bins but they can’t bin Hamad

A SAGGING rope, haphazard barricades—and fear. That is all it has taken to keep Diraz, Bahrain’s largest Shia village, under siege for the past seven months. Two checkpoints bar access to all but residents. Friends and family members are kept out. Grocers offload their wares at the perimeter wall. And the protesters who once thronged to hear the island’s leading Shia cleric, Isa Qassim, deliver his Friday sermon now stay at home. “Forget the thousands who used to join rallies,” says a cleric in a neighbouring village, recalling the protests which erupted after tanks crushed the mass demonstrations for democracy in 2011. “Today we can’t even find ten. Who wants to risk five years of prison and torture for ten minutes of glory?”

Though small, running out of oil and dependent on larger Gulf neighbours, Bahrain typifies how Arab autocrats have crushed the Arab Awakening’s demands for greater representation. After six years of suppression, the Shia opposition is disheartened. Maligned as the cat’s paw of Iran and a threat to Sunni rule in Bahrain, their...Continue reading

Charlemagne: Europe gets ready for Donald Trump

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Europeans might hope for the best with Donald Trump, but must prepare for the worst Print Headline:  Looking hairy Print Fly Title:  Charlemagne UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Charlemagne Main image:  20170121_EUD000_1.jpg JUST over a year ago Barack Obama decided that the European Union needed his help. His advisers devised a strategy to bolster America’s European allies, incorporating transatlantic visits, political theatre and pep talks. Mr Obama talked of the dangers of Brexit in London and invited Matteo Renzi, Italy’s ill-starred prime minister, to Washington to back his constitutional referendum. Last April Mr Obama’s visit to Hanover, ostensibly to encourage a floundering transatlantic trade pact, occasioned a stirring defence of European unity, the memory of which still turns ...

The old countries: Eastern Europe’s workers are emigrating, but its pensioners are staying

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Eastern Europe is losing workers and keeping pensioners Print Headline:  The old countries Print Fly Title:  Emigration in eastern Europe UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  The old countries Location:  VILNIUS AND RIGA Main image:  20170121_EUP002_0.jpg IN THE Lithuanian town of Panevezys, a shiny new factory built by Devold, a Norwegian clothing manufacturer, sits alone in the local free economic zone. The factory is unable to fill 40 of its jobs, an eighth of the total. That is not because workers in Panevezys are too picky, but because there are fewer and fewer of them. There are about half as many students in the municipality’s schools as there were a decade ago, says the mayor. Such worries are increasingly common across ...

Britain and the European Union: Theresa May opts for a hard Brexit

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  The government promises a “truly global Britain” after Brexit. Is that plausible? Print Headline:  A hard road Print Fly Title:  Britain and the European Union UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Britain and the European Union Main image:  20170121_brp509.jpg HALF a year after choosing Brexit, Britons have learned what they voted for. The single-word result of June’s referendum—“Leave”—followed a campaign boasting copious (incompatible) benefits: taking back control of immigration, ending payments into the European Union budget, rolling back foreign courts’ jurisdiction and trading with the continent as freely as ever. On January 17th Theresa May at last acknowledged that leaving the EU would involve trade-offs, and indicated some of the choices she would make. She will pursue a “hard Brexit” ...

Roma and EU Funds

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The Roma Initiatives Office invites Roma and pro-Roma organizations to apply for advocacy grants aimed at keeping civil society involved in the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of EU financial assistance.

Roma and EU Funds

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The Roma Initiatives Office invites Roma and pro-Roma organizations to apply for advocacy grants aimed at keeping civil society involved in the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of EU financial assistance.

Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

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The Story of an Iconic Obama Campaign Chant, Animated

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Barack Obama’s “Fired up, ready to go” cheer became a staple of his appearances when he was campaigning for the 2008 election. In the short animation Fired Up, he explains its origins in the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina. With audio of Obama telling the story as the soundtrack, the film combines original animation by 12 artists from around the world. It was produced by Dan Fipphen and Elyse Kelly.

Commons Confidential: What happened at Tom Watson's birthday party?

By Kevin Maguire from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Finances, fair and foul – and why Keir Starmer is doing the time warp.

Keir Starmer’s comrades mutter that a London seat is an albatross around the neck of the ambitious shadow Brexit secretary. He has a decent political CV: he was named after Labour’s first MP, Keir Hardie; he has a working-class background; he was the legal champion of the McLibel Two; he had a stint as director of public prosecutions. The knighthood is trickier, which is presumably why he rarely uses the title.

The consensus is that Labour will seek a leader from the north or the Midlands when Islington’s Jeremy Corbyn jumps or is pushed under a bus. Starmer, a highly rated frontbencher, is phlegmatic as he navigates the treacherous Brexit waters. “I keep hoping we wake up and it’s January 2016,” he told a Westminster gathering, “and we can have another run. Don’t we all?” Perhaps not everybody. Labour Remoaners grumble that Corbyn and particularly John McDonnell sound increasingly Brexitastic.

To Tom Watson’s 50th birthday bash at the Rivoli Ballroom in south London, an intact 1950s barrel-vaulted hall generous with the velvet. Ed Balls choreographed the “Gangnam Style” moves, and the Brockley venue hadn’t welcomed so many politicos since Tony Blair’s final Clause IV rally 22 years ago. Corbyn was uninvited, as the boogying deputy leader put the “party” back into the Labour Party. The thirsty guests slurped the free bar, repaying Watson for 30 years of failing to buy a drink.

One of Westminster’s dining rooms was booked for a “Decent Chaps Lunch” by Labour’s Warley warrior, John Spellar. In another room, the Tory peer David Willetts hosted a Christmas reception on behalf of the National Centre for Universities and Business. In mid-January. That’s either very tardy or very, very early.

The Labour Party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, is a financial maestro, having cleared the £25m debt that the party inherited from the Blair-Brown era. Now I hear that he has squirrelled away a £6m war chest as insurance against Theresa May gambling on an early election. Wisely, the party isn’t relying on Momentum’s fractious footsloggers.

The word in Strangers’ Bar is that the Welsh MP Stephen Kinnock held his own £200-a-head fundraiser in London. Either the financial future of the Aberavon Labour Party is assured, or he fancies a tilt at the top job.

Dry January helped me recall a Labour frontbencher explaining why he never goes into the Commons chamber after a skinful: “I was sitting alongside a colleague clearly refreshed by a liquid lunch. He intervened and made a perfectly sensible point without slurring. Unfortunately, he stood up 20 minutes later and repeated the same point, word for word.”

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

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What does Paul Nuttall's candidacy mean for Labour's chances in Stoke?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

A high-profile Ukip candidate may, paradoxically, help Labour's chances.

My first assessment of Labour’s chances in Stoke-on-Trent was fairly upbeat: I thought that Labour would likely hold the seat and that if there was a threat, it would come not from Ukip but from the Conservatives.

Now Ukip’s leader, Paul Nuttall, has been announced as the candidate for that party. Does that change things?

A lot has been written about how Nuttall, who is from Merseyside, presents an existential threat to Labour “up North”. Stoke is an imperfect test of that for many reasons, not least because it is in the West Midlands, but it’s worth noting that so far, “the Nuttall effect” has been conspicuous by its absence.

It hasn’t helped arrest Ukip’s collapse in local council by-elections. It didn’t prevent the Ukip vote declining in Sleaford and North Hykeham, a by-election, like Stoke-on-Trent, where the Leave vote outperformed the national average.

What has happened is that people who voted Labour in 2010 but Ukip in 2015 are still putting their cross in the Ukip box, but people who voted Conservative in 2010 but Ukip in 2015 have been drawn back to the Conservative fold. To add to Labour’s misery, since the referendum, there has been some slippage among Labour voters to the Liberal Democrats.

So all other things being equal, if there is a threat to Labour in Stoke it comes from the Tories, not Ukip. But in a boost to Labour, both parties finished on 22 per cent of the vote, with just 33 votes separating Ukip in second from the Tories in third. That makes it harder for either party to say “vote x to beat Labour”.

My feeling – which seems to be the majority view on the ground in Stoke – that if there is a threat it comes from the Tories coming through the middle, rather than Ukip directly. If the story of the by-election is a knife fight between Labour and Ukip, yes, that helps Ukip squeeze the Tory vote. But it also makes it less likely that anyone who might have switched from Labour to the Liberal Democrats as a result of the referendum – and they had a good second place in 2010 – will do so, making Labour’s position more secure.

Of course, I could be wrong. It could be that Nigel Farage’s outsized media profile means that most voters – who understandably don’t follow the ins and outs of the third party – still think he is the leader, and that my estimation of Paul Nuttall’s electoral pull is wildly off-beam.

And it’s worth noting that the Labour leadership are jittery about the seat. They are keen to have the by-election quickly to prevent their opponents getting a good run-up and put pressure on Tristram Hunt, once he had announced his resignation, to quit quickly and allow them to start the campaign period as soon as possible.

But my strong hunch remains: if there is a threat to Labour in Stoke it is from the Conservatives, and anything which distracts from that is good news for Jeremy Corbyn’s hopes of holding the seat. 

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The 4 most unfortunate Nazi-EU comparisons made by Brexiteers

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Don't mention the war.

On Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister Theresa May made her overtures to Europe. Britain wanted to be, she declared “the best friend and neighbour to our European partners”.

But on the other side of the world, her Foreign secretary was stirring up trouble. Boris Johnson, on a trade mission to India, said of the French President:

“If Mr Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape [the EU], in the manner of some World War Two movie, I don't think that is the way forward, and it's not in the interests of our friends and partners.”

His comments were widely condemned, with EU Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt calling them “abhorrent”.

David Davis, the Brexit secretary, then piled in with the declaration: “If we can cope with World War Two, we can cope with this."

But this isn’t the first time the Brexiteers seemed to be under the impression they are part of a historical re-enactment society. Here are some of the others:

1. When Michael Gove compared economist to Nazis

During the EU referendum campaign, when economic organisation after economic organisation predicted a dire financial hangover from Brexit, the arch-Leaver Tory MP is best known for his retort that people “have had enough of experts”.

But Gove also compared economic experts to the Nazi scientists who denounced Albert Einstein in the 1930s, adding “they got 100 German scientists in the pay of the government to say he was wrong”. 

(For the record, the major forecasts came from a mixture of private companies, internationally-based organisations, and charities, as well as the Treasury).

Gove later apologised for his “clumsy” historical analogy. But perhaps his new chum, Donald Trump, took note. In a recent tweet attacking the US intelligence agencies, he demanded: “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”

2. When Leave supporters channelled Basil Fawlty

Drivers in Oxfordshire had their journey interrupted by billboards declaring: “Halt Ze German Advance! Vote Leave”. 

The posters used the same logo as the Vote Leave campaign – although as the outcry spread Vote Leave denied it had anything to do with it. Back in the 1970s, all-Germans-are-Nazi views were already so tired that Fawlty Towers made a whole episode mocking them.

Which is just as well, because the idea of the Nazis achieving their evil empire through tedious regulatory standards directives and co-operation with French socialists is a bunch of bendy bananas.   

3. When Boris Johnson said the EU shared aims with Hitler

Saying that, Boris Johnson (him again) still thinks there’s a comparison to be had. 

In May, Johnson told the Telegraph that while Brussels bureaucrats are using “different methods” to Hitler, they both aim to create a European superstate with Germany at its heart.

Hitler wanted to unite the German-speaking peoples, invade Eastern Europe and enslave its people, and murder the European Jews. He embraced violence and a totalitarian society. 

The European Union was designed to prevent another World War, protect the rights of minorities and smaller nations, and embrace the tedium of day-long meetings about standardised mortgage fact sheets.

Also, as this uncanny Johnson lookalike declared in the Telegraph in 2013, Germany is “wunderbar” and there is “nothing to fear”.

4. When this Ukip candidate quoted Mein Kampf

In 2015, Kim Rose, a Ukip candidate in Southampton, decided to prove his point that the EU was a monstrosity by quoting from a well-known book.

The author recommended that “the best way to take control” over a people was to erode it “by a thousand tine and almost imperceptible reductions”.

Oh, and the book was Mein Kampf, Hitler's erratic, rambling, anti-Semitic pre-internet conspiracy theory. As Rose explained: “My dad’s mother was Jewish. Hitler was evil, I'm just saying the EU is evil as well.”
 

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Pepys and a nightingale

By Janet Sutherland from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

A new poem by Janet Sutherland.

Pepys wrapped a rag around his little left toe,
it being new sore, and set out walking,
coming by chance upon his nightingale,
which called me back to mine. I saw the past,
to the rear of the farmhouse there were yews,
rifle green and murderous to cattle,
and, once, my father heard a nightingale
so out I went to wait on soft dead ground.
It’s plain, he said, plain brown, just listen and
under a hundredweight of feathered branches,
that crushed the air to a tense silence,
a nightingale sang, out of full darkness.
His heart, as all hearts are, disguised;
a secretive bird in an impenetrable thicket.


Janet Sutherland is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Bone Monkey (Shearsman Books).

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Lost passports: How the City of London hopes to navigate a hard Brexit

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  How the City hopes to secure its future after a hard Brexit Print Headline:  Lost passports Print Fly Title:  Brexit and financial regulation UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Lost passports Main image:  20170121_FND002_0.jpg THERESA MAY’S speech on January 17th set Britain definitively on a path to a “hard” Brexit, in which it will leave not just the EU but the European single market. This was not what the City of London wanted to hear. The prime minister did at least pick out finance, along with carmaking, as an industry for which “elements of current single-market arrangements” might remain in place as part of a future trade deal. The City is holding out hope that a bespoke deal built on the existing legal concept of “equivalence” could still accord it a fair degree of access to ...

The Brexit elite want to make trade great again – but there’s a catch

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The most likely trade partners will want something in return. And it could be awkward. 

Make trade great again! That's an often overlooked priority of Britain's Brexit elite, who believe that by freeing the United Kingdom from the desiccated hand of the European bureaucracy they can strike trade deals with the rest of the world.

That's why Liam Fox, the Trade Secretary, is feeling particularly proud of himself this morning, and has written an article for the Telegraph about all the deals that he is doing the preparatory work for. "Britain embarks on trade crusade" is that paper's splash.

The informal talks involve Norway, New Zealand, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of Middle Eastern countries, including Kuwait, the UAE and our friends the Saudis.

Elsewhere, much symbolic importance has been added to a quick deal with the United States, with Theresa May saying that we were "front of the queue" with President-Elect Donald Trump in her speech this week. 

As far as Trump is concerned, the incoming administration seems to see it differently: Wilbur Ross, his Commerce Secretary, yesterday told Congress that the first priority is to re-negotiate the Nafta deal with their nearest neighbours, Canada and Mexico.

In terms of judging whether or not Brexit is a success or not, let's be clear: if the metric for success is striking a trade deal with a Trump administration that believes that every trade deal the United States has struck has been too good on the other party to the deal, Brexit will be a failure.

There is much more potential for a genuine post-Brexit deal with the other nations of the English-speaking world. But there's something to watch here, too: there is plenty of scope for trade deals with the emerging powers in the Brics - Brazil, India, etc. etc.

But what there isn't is scope for a deal that won't involve the handing out of many more visas to those countries, particularly India, than we do currently.

Downing Street sees the success of Brexit on hinging on trade and immigration. But political success on the latter may hobble any hope of making a decent go of the former. 

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New passenger-car registrations

By from European Union. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Print section Print Headline:  New passenger-car registrations UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president China’s car industry boomed last year: the world’s largest auto market saw the number of passenger cars sold swell by 15%, thanks to government tax incentives. Growth will probably slow this year as the stimulus is phased out. New passenger-car registrations in the European Union rose for the third consecutive year. Although Volkswagen saw its share of the European market shrink following its emissions-testing scandal, it remained the best-selling brand. Sales in Britain do not seem to have been strongly affected by the Brexit referendum; and low interest rates could keep sales buoyant. Although 17.6m cars were sold in the United States last year, sales are expected to plateau or decline. Article body images:  20170121_inc621.png Published:  20170121 Source:  The Economist Newspaper ...

Why do the English celebrate Burns Night? In a word: Scotch

By Nina Caplan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Here, surely, is a man who truly merits a whisky-soaked celebration.

Why do the English celebrate Burns Night? My question in no way demeans the 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns: we commemorate his birth more enthusiastically than that of our own national bard, and the reason is clear and amber. Scotch, particularly single malt – the oak-aged barley spirit from a single distillery – is now almost infinitely various, and if countries from Japan to the United States enthusiastically ferment and age grains including corn, rye and wheat, the Scotch industry remains as unflustered as Burns by a doggerel-spouting rival.

As it happens, Burns did have such a rival, although only one person ever took the rivalry seriously. William Topaz McGonagall never lacked self-belief, despite crafting such immortal works as “The Tay Bridge Disaster”, which commemorates an 1879 railway catastrophe and ends thus:

 

. . . your central girders would not have given way,

At least many sensible men do say,

Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,

At least many sensible men confesses,

For the stronger we our houses do build,

The less chance we have of being killed.

 

Here, surely, is a man who truly merits a whisky-soaked celebration. Great poetry is its own intoxication, while writing of this sort, rather like the tragedy it commemorates, is a powerful reminder of the human fallibility that inspires many of us to drink.

Poor Wullie McGonagall was the grain whisky to Burns’s single malt. The former has its place and can be highly entertaining; the latter is intense and complex with very Scottish inflections. Even Burns’s name is an apt descriptor for a drink best taken with a “teardrop” of water, to lessen the fire and free the flavours. The industry has followed his example in burnishing the myth of Scotland, if frequently in a less poetic manner.

Glenmorangie has a distillery on the beautiful Dornoch Firth, an emblem on its bottle inspired by an eighth-century Pictish sculpture and, most recently, a 1990 special release beautifully crafted in spite of a terrible barley harvest the previous year. The whisky is great, rounded and fruity and makes an interesting comparison with the woodier 25-year-old limited edition that Lagavulin, off the opposite coast on the peaty island of Islay, has created to celebrate its bicentenary.

Scotch need not be so venerable. I recently tried and liked a lightly citrusy 12-year-old from Knockdhu distillery in Speyside called AnCnoc, although I can’t pronounce it.

I rather like McGonagall, even if he was both talentless and teetotal – unlike Burns, who indulged himself into an early grave. McGonagall was at least no hypocrite, while Burns fended off penury by becoming an excise officer, collecting whisky taxes and trying to apprehend the many smugglers who avoided paying any.

Life is an imperfect business, as Burns well knew, and it is this understanding, as well as our shared appreciation for the beverage he drank so freely and regulated so reluctantly, that inspires us to fete him each 25 January. In his honour, then, let us raise a dram, attack a haggis and leave him the last words:

 

Here’s a bottle and an honest friend!

What wad ye wish for mair, man?

Wha kens, before his life may end,

What his share may be o’ care, man?

Then catch the moments as they fly,

And use them as ye ought, man:

Believe me, happiness is shy,

And comes not aye when sought, man.

 

Next week: Felicity Cloake on food

UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE/UIG VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Intel Importance of Being Pence: The Vice President’s National Security Role

By David Priess from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The CIA briefer started her day in the late 1990s like she had before on so many other working mornings: taking a highly sensitive intelligence document from Langley into downtown Washington and hand-delivering it to the man for whom it had been personally crafted. Its top secret updates covered a wide range of issues in ...

The Past, Present, and Future of the War for Public Opinion

By Matthew Armstrong from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

As resolutions do, Senate Resolution 74 opened with a declaration of fact: Whereas the first weapon of aggression by the Kremlin is propaganda designed to subvert, to confuse and to divide the free world, and to inflame the Russian and satellite peoples with hatred for our free institutions… While these words sound familiar, this resolution ...

The Future Soldier: Alone in a Crowd

By Conrad Crane from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

In the November 1956 Army magazine Lt. Col Robert Rigg portrayed a soldier of the “Futurarmy” of the 1970s. This soldier would swarm with his comrades to the battlefield in atomic aircraft, see the enemy clearly at night and in all weather conditions, wear light plastic bulletproof armor (with special pockets to store cigarettes), be ...

Developing Senior Leaders for the Reserve Components

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

This perspective reviews current practices in U.S. military reserve component general officer development and surveys some of the innovative approaches the services are taking. It also explains some limitations to these approaches.

A Comprehensive Assessment of Four Options for Financing Health Care Delivery in Oregon

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

This report compares the impacts and feasibility of four options for financing health care in Oregon: two state-based plans that would ensure coverage for all residents, a state-sponsored plan offered in Oregon's nongroup market, and the status quo.

Oregon's Options to Overhaul Health Care Financing

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

This analysis of three options to reform health care payment in Oregon (two state-based plans that would ensure coverage for all state residents and a state-sponsored plan offered in Oregon's nongroup market) found benefits and trade-offs for each.

RAND Year in Review 2016

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The RAND Corporation's mission is to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis; this Year in Review reflects on RAND's achievements in 2016.

Connections to Care (C2C)

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

This brief highlights how the Connections to Care (C2C) program works, the evaluation RAND will undertake, and some thoughts from participating organizations at the outset of the program.

Toshiba: Shrinking to survive

From Analysis. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

After a disastrous nuclear deal, the company could be forced to sell off its best assets

Don't Make Any Sudden Moves, Mr. Trump

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The incoming Trump administration inherits a daunting global situation. But rushing to reverse longstanding U.S. policies could generate new challenges and make existing ones harder to resolve, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Tracey Thorn and A L Kennedy to judge the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize

By Tom Gatti from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

The prize for “fiction at its most novel” announces its 2017 judging panel.

Tracey Thorn has been announced as a judge for the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize for fiction. Thorn – a singer-songwriter, New Statesman columnist and bestselling author – joins the award-winning novelists Kevin Barry, A L Kennedy and Naomi Wood, on the judging panel.

The £10,000 prize, co-founded with the New Statesman, is for fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”: The 2016 prize was won by Mike McCormack for Solar Bones, a novel narrated by a dead man, written in a single sentence. The judges praised it as “beautiful and transcendent” and “an extraordinary work”. McCormack is the third Irish writer to win the award, after Kevin Barry –  whose novel about John Lennon, Beatlebone, won in 2015 – and Eimear McBride, whose debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won the inaugural prize in 2013, having taken nine years to find a publisher. The 2014 prize was won by Ali Smith for her “reversible” novel How to be Both, which consisted of two narratives that could be read in either order.

Tracey Thorn found fame with Ben Watt in the duo Everything But The Girl, and went on to record as a solo artist and collaborate with Massive Attack, John Grant and others. She has published two books, including the Sunday Times-best-selling memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen, and writes a fortnightly column in the New Statesman, “Off the record”. Kevin Barry is the author of two short story collections and two novels, the first of which, City of Bohane, set in a wild west Cork in 2053, won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. A L Kennedy has twice been included in the Granta list of Best of Young British Novelists and she has written in many forms, as well as performing as a stand-up comedian. Her 19 books include the non-fiction work On Bullfighting and the novel Day, which won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2007. Naomi Wood, who is chair of judges, is lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths; her most recent novel is the award-winning Mrs Hemingway.

Speaking at the prizegiving held at Foyles Charing Cross Road last November, Mike McCormack said: “It’s about time the prize-giving community honoured experimental works and time that mainstream publishers started honouring their readership . . . Readers are smart. They’re up for it.” Talking to Stephanie Boland of the New Statesman, he criticised the staid nature of British publishing: “Irish writers are selling their books into what is one of the most conservative literary cultures in the world, into Britain. British novels, British fiction, is dominated by an intellectual conservatism.”

The Goldsmiths Prize is open for submissions (novels written by authors from the UK and the Republic of Ireland) from 20 January to 24 March, 2017. The shortlist will be announced on 27 September and the winner on 8 November.

Edward Bishop

Workers' rights after Brexit? It's radio silence from the Tories

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 19, 2017.

Theresa May promised to protect workers after leaving the EU. 

In her speech on Tuesday, Theresa May repeated her promise to “ensure that workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained".  It left me somewhat confused.

Last Friday, my bill to protect workers’ rights after Brexit was due to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons. Instead I sat and watched several Tory MPs speak about radios for more than four hours.

The Prime Minister and her Brexit Secretary, David Davis, have both previously made a clear promise in their speeches at Conservative Party conference to maintain all existing workers’ rights after Britain has left the European Union. Mr Davis even accused those who warned that workers’ rights may be put at risk of “scaremongering". 

My Bill would simply put the Prime Minister’s promise into law. Despite this fact, Conservative MPs showed their true colours and blocked a vote on it through filibustering - speaking for so long that the time runs out.

This included the following vital pieces of information being shared:

David Nuttall is on his second digital radio, because the first one unfortunately broke; Rebecca Pow really likes elephant garlic (whatever that is); Jo Churchill keeps her radio on a high shelf in the kitchen; and Seema Kennedy likes radio so much, she didn’t even own a television for a long time. The bill they were debating wasn’t opposed by Labour, so they could have stopped and called a vote at any point.

This practice isn’t new, but I was genuinely surprised that the Conservatives decided to block this bill.

There is nothing in my bill which would prevent Britain from leaving the EU.  I’ve already said that when the vote to trigger Article 50 comes to Parliament, I will vote for it. There is also nothing in the bill which would soften Brexit by keeping us tied to the EU. While I would personally like to see rights in the workplace expanded and enhanced, I limited the bill to simply maintaining what is currently in place, in order to make it as agreeable as possible.

So how can Theresa May's words be reconciled with the actions of her backbenchers on Friday? Well, just like when Lionel Hutz explains to Marge in the Simpsons that "there's the truth, and the truth", there are varying degrees to which the government can "protect workers' rights".

Brexit poses three immediate risks:

First, if the government were to repeal the European Communities Act without replacing it, all rights introduced to the UK through that piece of legislation would fall away, including parental leave, the working time directive, and equal rights for part-time and agency workers. The government’s Great Repeal Bill will prevent this from happening, so in that sense they will be "protecting workers’ rights".

However, the House of Commons Library has said that the Great Repeal Bill will leave those rights in secondary legislation, rather than primary legislation. While Britain is a member of the EU, there is only ever scope to enhance and extend rights over and above what had been agreed at a European level. After Brexit, without the floor of minimum rights currently provided by the EU, any future government could easily chip away at these protections, without even the need for a vote in Parliament, through what’s called a "statutory instrument". It will leave workers’ rights hanging by a thread.

The final change that could occur after we have left the EU is European Court rulings no longer applying in this country. There are a huge number of rulings which have furthered rights and increased wages for British workers - from care workers who do sleep-in shifts being paid for the full shift, not just the hours they’re awake; to mobile workers being granted the right to be paid for their travel time. These rulings may no longer have legal basis in Britain after we’ve left. 

My bill would have protected rights against all three of these risks. The government have thus far only said how they will protect against the first.

We know that May opposed the introduction of many of these rights as a backbencher and shadow minister; and that several of her Cabinet ministers have spoken about their desire to reduce employment protections, one even calling for them to be halved last year. The government has even announced it is looking at removing the right to strike from transport workers, which would contradict their May’s promise to protect workers’ rights before we’ve even left the EU.

The reality is that the Conservatives have spent the last six years reducing people’s rights at work - from introducing employment tribunal fees which are a barrier to justice for many, to their attack on workers’ ability to organise in the Trade Union Act. A few lines in May’s speech doesn’t undo the scepticism working people have about the Tories' intentions in this area. Until she puts her money where her mouth is, nor should they. 

Melanie Onn is the Labour MP for Great Grimsby.

Getty

The National Security Hole at the Heart of the Trump Transition

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Thousands of key policymakers — from State to the Department of Defense — still need to be appointed to new positions. But nothing’s happening. Days before Trump steps into office, he has failed to announce enough capable replacements for the 4,000 political appointments that any president must make.

 

The National Security Hole at the Heart of the Trump Transition

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Thousands of key policymakers — from State to the Department of Defense — still need to be appointed to new positions. But nothing’s happening. Days before Trump steps into office, he has failed to announce enough capable replacements for the 4,000 political appointments that any president must make.

 

Jihadists returning home to Tunisia

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

“IF BEN GUERDANE had been located next to Falluja, we would have liberated Iraq.” So (reportedly) said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, before he was killed a decade ago. He was referring reverentially to a town in south-eastern Tunisia that is one of the world’s biggest exporters of jihadists. No place better epitomises the challenges facing Tunisia’s government as it tries to consolidate a wobbly democracy six years after the revolution that toppled the old dictatorship.

Hundreds of Tunisians marked the anniversary of the revolution on January 14th by taking to the streets to demand jobs. The protests began in Ben Guerdane before spreading to other poor places, such as Sidi Bouzid, Meknassi and Gafsa, where locals blocked the route of Beji Caid Essebsi, the president, who was in town to mark the anniversary. “Work is our right,” yelled the protesters, using the slogans of 2011.

Work is indeed a right enshrined in Tunisia’s constitution, adopted in 2014. But the jobless rate of 15% is higher than it was before the revolution. The rate for youngsters and those in the countryside is higher still. This is partly...Continue reading

What It Was Like to Watch the U.S. Presidential Election in a London Bar

By Nadine Ajaka from Best of The Atlantic. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

In a London pub, a crowd gathers to watch the results of the U.S. election, getting more and more drunk and opinionated. The night of November 8, 2016, the filmmaker Ryan Scafuro posted up and interviewed Brits and Americans alike as the results rolled in until the early morning. In the film, the audience is packed together and tensions are high at times—for the British in the crowd, the results of Brexit are still fresh in their minds. “I wasn’t expecting June 23rd in the UK to go as it did,” says one woman. “The norms and what we commonly believe has gone totally out the window post the Brexit vote,” adds another.

The see more of Scafuro’s work, visit his website. He’s also working on the feature documentaries Phantom Cowboys and Caravan.

Hutchins Roundup: Medicaid expansions, minimum wage, and more

By Louise M. Sheiner from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Studies in this week’s Hutchins Roundup find that states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA saw an increase in prescription drug use, firms that were randomly assigned a minimum wage sought to hire more productive workers, and more. Want to receive the Hutchins Roundup as an email? Sign up here to get it in your […]
      
 
 

Water and U.S. National Security

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Defense and Security. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Water and security are inextricably linked in every region of the world. While shared interests have historically facilitated cooperation in managing water, the future could be different.

The Rolls-Royce scandal has not run its course

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Settlements can make sense where individual prosecutions follow

Talk global, act local: Doing Brexit the hard way

By from European Union. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Print section Print Rubric:  Theresa May opts for a clean break with Europe. Negotiations will still be tricky Print Headline:  Doing it the hard way Print Fly Title:  Brexit UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  The 45th president Fly Title:  Talk global, act local Main image:  20170121_brp501_0.jpg IT MIGHT be called May’s paradox. Since she became prime minister last July, Mrs May has been urged by businesses to clarify her Brexit goals. Yet every time she has tried, investors have reacted by selling sterling, because she has shown a preference for a “hard” (or, as her advisers prefer, “clean”) Brexit that takes Britain out of the EU’s single market and customs union.  In fact the pound rose on January 17th when she gave a speech that set out her most detailed thinking so far about Brexit. That was partly because her decision to leave the single ...

Fake news sells because people want it to be true

By Laurie Penny from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

The rise of bullshit, from George Orwell to Donald Trump.

When is a lie not a lie? Recently, the Daily Telegraph reported that university students had demanded that “philosophers such as Plato and Kant” be “removed from [the] syllabus because they are white”. Other outlets followed suit, wringing their hands over the censoriousness of today’s uninquiring young minds. The article generated an extraordinary amount of consternation click bait. Angry responses were written and hot takes were quick-fried and served up by outlets anxious  to join the dinner rush of  ad-friendly disapproval.

It’s a story that could have been designed to press every outrage button of the political-correctness-gone-mad brigade. It has students trying to ban things, an apparent lack of respect for independent thought and reverse racism. It seemed too good to be true.

And it was. In reality, what happened was far less interesting: the student union of the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) at the University of London had proposed that “the majority of philosophers on our courses” be from Asia and Africa, and that the Western greats be approached from a “critical standpoint”. Some might consider this a reasonable request, given that critical analysis is a component of most philosophy courses, and Soas has a long tradition of promoting the study of the global South. Yet a story about students declaring Kant irrelevant allows the Telegraph to despair for the youth of today and permits advertisers to profit from that despair.

People didn’t start pumping out this stuff because they decided to abandon journalistic ethics. They did so because such principles are hugely expensive and a hard sell. Even those of us who create and consume news can forget that the news is a commodity – a commodity with a business model behind it, subsidised by advertising. Rigorous, investigative, nuanced content, the sort that pays attention to objective facts and fosters serious public debate, is expensive to create. Talk, however, is cheap.

Fake news sells because fake news is what people want to be true. Fake news generates clicks because people click on things that they want to believe. Clicks lead to ad revenue, and ad revenue is currently all that is sustaining a media industry in crisis. Journalism is casting about for new funding models as if for handholds on a sheer cliff. This explains a great deal about the position in which we find ourselves as citizens in this toxic public sphere.

What has this got to do with Donald Trump? A great deal. This sticky, addictive spread of fake news has fostered a climate of furious, fact-free reaction.

Press outlets give millions of dollars of free coverage to Trump without him having to send out a single press release. The reality TV star is the small-fingered god of good copy. The stories write themselves. Now, the stories are about the threat to the future of journalism from the man who has just entered the Oval Office.

Trump’s first press conference in six months, held at Trump Tower in New York on 11 January, was – by any measure – extraordinary. He did not merely refuse to answer questions about unverified allegations that he had been “cultivated” by Russia. He lost his temper spectacularly with the assembled press, declaring: “You’re fake news! And you’re fake news!”

Trump did not mean that the journalists were lying. His attitude to the press is straight from the Kremlin’s playbook: rather than refute individual accusations, he attempts to discredit the notion of truth in journalism. The free press is a check on power, and Trump likes his power unchecked.

Writing in the Guardian in 2015, Peter Pomarantsev noted of Putin’s propaganda strategy that “these efforts constitute a kind of linguistic sabotage of the infrastructure of reason: if the very possibility of rational argument is submerged in a fog of uncertainty, there are no grounds for debate – and the public can be expected to decide that there is no point in trying to decide the winner, or even bothering to listen.”

If people lose trust in the media’s capacity to report facts, they begin to rely on what “feels” true, and the influence rests with whomever can capitalise on those feelings. Donald Trump and his team know this. Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. Instead, he tells it like it feels, and that’s far more effective.

Fake news – or “bullshit”, as the American philosopher Harry G Frankfurt termed it in a 2005 essay – has never been weaponised to this extent, but it is nothing new. George Orwell anticipated the trend in the 1930s, looking back on the Spanish Civil War. “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world,” he wrote. “Lies will pass into history . . . In Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie . . . In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that ‘facts’ existed and were more or less discoverable.”

This is the real danger of fake news, and it is compounded by a lingering assumption of good faith on the part of those who believe in journalistic principle. After all, it’s impossible to prove that a person intended to deceive, and that they didn’t believe at the time that what they said was true. Trump may believe in whatever “facts” he has decided are convenient that day. When he insists that he never mocked a disabled reporter, whatever video evidence may exist to the contrary, he may believe it. Is it, then, a lie?

Of course it’s a lie. People who have no respect for the concept of truth are still capable of lies. However, they are also capable of bullshit – bullshit being a register that rubbishes the entire notion of objective reality by deeming it irrelevant. The only possible response is to insist, and keep insisting, that the truth still means something.

GEOGRAPHY PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES

The amazing lawnmower man

By Christian Donlan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

How ex-bank manager Clive Gravett became obsessed with Edwin Beard Budding, the inventor of the lawnmower.

It’s midday in the Museum of Gardening. Clive Gravett, the founder, curator and owner of most of the exhibits here, is pondering a relatively unimportant item in his collection: a glass tube, about a foot long. “Blown glass,” says Gravett, leaning in close, “so it’s probably early Victorian.” This, he explains to a curious visitor, is the work of George Stephenson, the “father of railways” and inventor of an early miner’s safety lamp. It’s a device for straightening cucumbers.

Stephenson’s triumphs are listed on a plaque nearby, but this museum, located in a corner of a garden centre in Hassocks, West Sussex, is one of few places on Earth where a luminary of Stephenson’s stature must stand in the shadow of a more exceptional figure. The Museum of Gardening is a shrine to Gravett’s hero Edwin Beard Budding, who in 1830 made one of the great intellectual leaps of the 19th century. He invented the lawnmower.

Budding was one of those bright-eyed tinkerers so common in the 1800s – a “machinist”, according to his epitaph. Legend has it that he was sitting one day at a cloth-cutting apparatus, watching a bladed cylinder travel over wool and cleanly remove the nap. He glanced out of the window to where men were working a lawn with scythes, and had a sudden moment of inspiration. Surely this cutting cylinder could be used just as easily on grass as on cloth?

In that instant, the lawnmower was born. “And it’s barely changed to this day,” explains Gravett, a sinewy man in his early sixties with icy blue eyes that thaw when he gets excited. “Compare it to the fine-turf mowers of today. It’s the same thing. You have a roller, a cutting cylinder, and a drive. That’s his design.”

Gravett was destined to fall for Budding. The son of farm labourers, he wanted to follow his father into horticulture. “I planned to stay on the farm but my mother said, ‘You don’t want to end up like us, living on tithed property.’ She gave me a bit of a push.” Instead, he went into banking and – smart, energetic and blessed with an unforced quirkiness – rose to be branch manager.

“Thirty-five years later I was very disillusioned,” he says. “I’d seen a lot of colleagues waylaid by stress, and I thought: ‘No, you’re not going to do that to me.’ We got our branch to the top of the list and I resigned, and accused [then RBS chief executive] Fred Goodwin of corporate bullying in my resignation letter.”

He then started up a small horticultural business. It was while tending the gardens of a retired solicitor in Ditchling that he discovered four old mowers in the garage. “He said he wanted to dump them,” Gravett remembers. “I took them away, found there was an old lawnmower club, and it went from there.”

Gravett is cagey about how many lawnmowers he owns, but it’s somewhere around a hundred. That’s not many, he suggests, given that antique lawnmowers are hardly pricey. It might seem excessive, though, given that there’s no lawn on his property. Many of his mowers reside at the museum. They are huge and bulky and strangely insectoid in the 19th century, with motors coming in about 1904, and then the weight drops away until the Flymo arrives in the 1960s – a gorgeous piece of domestic futurism, more manta ray than machine. “A lot of collectors are quite funny about Flymos,” he observes.

Gravett loves to talk about the magic of restoring a lawnmower. “Some Ransomes mowers can be difficult to date,” he says, “until you strip the cutting blade back to the metal and see 1907 or 1911, and you’re the first person to see that since it was put together.” His real passion, however, is research. It’s the research that brought him to Budding.

Born in 1796, the illegitimate son of a farmer (“his mother was probably the housemaid”), Budding was a clever child, training in carpentry and then engineering. As well as the lawnmower, he designed an early pepper-box pistol, and in the 1840s, a few years before his death, he invented the screw-adjustable spanner. None of these made him much money: they arrived too early. His lawnmower was so ahead of its time that he had to test it at night – “possibly because of prying eyes”, Gravett says, laughing, “but possibly because people would think he was stupid”.

Today, Gravett remembers Budding though his museum and charity, the Budding Foundation, which supports young people across education, training and sport. He is still looking out for lawnmowers, and urges everybody he meets to check their shed for forgotten treasure.

There is one machine he doesn’t have in his collection: a Budding. “Nobody has a Budding,” he sighs. “He probably made a few thousand, but the wars gobbled up scrap metal. Even so, I like to think one might be found.”

But Gravett managed to get close to his hero a few years ago when he took a trip to Dursley in Gloucestershire, where Budding is buried. “Nobody had written about his grave, so I decided to find it. I researched the churchyard, and the council provided me with a map to the plots.” The border fence had been moved twenty years earlier after six graves were taken away. When he found Budding’s plot, it was right up against the new fence. “We’re lucky we didn’t lose him.”

The grave, like Budding’s legacy, showed signs of neglect. It was overgrown and covered with brambles. Gravett lights up at the memory. “I cleared all the brambles off, and then, since I happened to have a 100-year-old lawnmower in the back of the truck, I hefted it over the fence.

“I mowed as close as I could to his resting place.” 

ANN RONAN PICTURES/PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES

Who is set to win the Syrian civil war?

By Tom Stevenson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

The ceasefire is largely holding. So what happens next?

The Syrian civil war is without doubt the worst and most brutal conflict in the world, a generational war without real historical comparisons.

The most recent efforts to bring about a ceasefire, in talks between Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Assad regime at the end of last year, did provide some respite from the fighting in some areas. But the regime’s forces have continued to attack armed rebels around Damascus and particularly in Wadi Barada.

The UN mediator for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, hopes to convene further peace talks in Geneva on 8 February but for now the conflict continues.

On the ground, a classic hereditary tyranny that survives only through force and external contrivance is fighting disparate militias across the country for control of the state. World and regional powers fight with and against it, for reasons of their own. At the same time, much of the actual fighting is local: one village or businessman against another.

The armed opposition is flagging. From Islamic State (IS) to Jabhat an-Nusra, Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam) to Ahrar ash-Sham, extreme religious conservative militias – many of them led by veterans of the Jihadist insurgency against the United States in Iraq – have long since taken over as the main bulk of the rebel forces.

The original Syrian uprising was libertarian, anti-hierarchical, and revolutionary in character – as most popular movements are – but these sentiments were either lost in the general dirt and blood of civil war, hindered by external support for Jihadist forces, or caved in under the extreme brutality of the regime. A significant constituency that believes in the first principles of the uprising survives in the exiled diaspora but its numbers fighting on the ground are now few and marginal.

The existing Sunni Arab armed opposition, regardless of ideology, generally has little to no understanding of the parallel but different fight of the Kurdish militias led by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the North and even less sympathy for their cause. In some cases they are openly contemptuous of historical Kurdish grievances and current Kurdish ambitions and cling like the regime to a statist insistence on the integrity of Syria’s existing borders.

The Kurdish militias while they despise the regime do not trust the main of the Arab opposition and have largely refused to work with them on the wider project of overthrowing it, choosing instead to consolidate their gains in the North.

Outside of the Kurdish enclaves, the conflict today is really a series of set-piece sieges around the remaining opposition strongholds (and a couple of rebel sieges of regime outposts) punctuated by village to village and hamlet to hamlet skirmishes.

Almost all of the armed opposition has become detached from the civilian population and this year the reality of its fight as being over territory and to establish or protect lucrative looting and smuggling businesses will become clearer.

Of the major sieges, it is those around Damascus that will draw the most attention in the early part of the year. The rebel positions in Yarmouk and Hajar al-Aswad are likely to be forced into an ignominious surrender by regime forces in the next few months.

The crown of the opposition’s strongholds near the capital, in the Eastern Ghouta oasis, is also likely to fall to regime forces within the year. The Syrian army has already retaken chunks of rebel-held Eastern Ghouta and took advantage of the 30 December ceasefire to mass for a push on rebel positions around the enclave.

“With Aleppo city retaken in its entirety, the regime can afford to focus manpower on the area, which has been severely weakened anyway by siege conditions and rebel infighting,” Aymen Jawad al-Tamimi, one of the few analysts with knowledge of the Jihadist opposition and the current balance of forces within Syria, tells me.

Using its superior diplomatic position and fire superiority, the regime is set to re-take the last anti-government bastion around the Syrian capital.

The regime’s capture of Aleppo late last year was a significant victory which was a long time coming. The successes that the armed Syrian opposition enjoyed from late 2011-15, and that allowed them to take Aleppo’s centre, were dependent on critical Turkish support and reinforcement through the open Turkish border.

During 2016 Turkey, recognising that the regime wasn’t going to be overthrown without massive US intervention, reduced the scope of its support, sealed the border, and moved towards diplomatic normalisation with Russia.

The armed opposition in the area has predictably fallen apart and never had much hope of holding east Aleppo. What fighting forces remain are open Turkish proxies working to keep IS away from the Turkish border and fighting Syrian Kurdish forces, not overthrowing the regime.

The armed opposition is not entirely spent however. In the city of Idlib, rebel forces remain strong and still control almost all of the surrounding province.

The area is dominated by Jabhat an-Nusra, commonly referred to as the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, which expelled the secular Syrian Revolutionaries Front from Idlib in 2014. As the Century Foundation’s Sam Heller has documented, Ahrar ash-Sham are also influential there alongside a coalition of other extremist militias.

“I see Idlib as more likely to remain a rebel bastion over the next year, with strong supply lines still coming in through Turkey, and the regime still needing to clear out the north Hama and Latakia fronts, which have proven to be a nuisance,” Tamimi says.

In the south of the country, the US and Jordan have set up their own proxy forces to work with the armed opposition, but their efforts have proved non-committal and ineffective. The US/Jordanian force is currently trying to dislodge IS forces in the city of Deraa, but to little effect.

In Homs the regime has lost ground to IS of late but its forces there pose no serious threat to the regime and the same applies vice versa. Its stronghold in al-Bab is besieged by Turkish proxies and beset by Russian and Turkish air strikes.

Understanding the war in Syria in 2017 will necessitate discarding the propaganda. The Assad regime is not merely defending the country from fanatical outlaws, although there are plenty of them, and neither is the armed opposition only an expression of resistance to state tyranny, which is similarly real. The US and Europe are not supporting democratic forces and Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime are no more fighting “terror” in Syria than the US was in Iraq.

Contrary to claims that the world is ignoring the conflict, there has been constant intervention by regional and world powers. The US and UK have intervened consistently on the side of the armed opposition since the onset of the war and the effect was mostly to perpetuate the conflict as a bloody stalemate.

Since October 2015 Russian intervention – alongside Iranian incursions – has proved critical in shifting the fight in the regime’s favour by the use of brute force and violence. The recent rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is an ill omen for Kurdish aspirations for autonomy in the North.

No one can seriously argue that the problem in Syria is insufficient foreign intervention. Ascribing the brutality of the war to a lack of external involvement may be a convenient way for the usual suspects to push for future aggressive foreign policy but it has no basis in the historical record.

With Russia and Iran’s assistance the regime is winning. Saudi Arabia is focused on Yemen and without substantial Turkish support and Saudi funding the armed opposition is already falling apart. The chances of a great revival are slim.

But the rebels still have Idlib. And even with Damascus and its suburbs fully under its control the regime must contend with a committed insurgency and its own fundamental illegitimacy. So the war goes on.

Tom Stevenson is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul

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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

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Larry Summers v. Edward Glaeser: Two Harvard economists debate increased infrastructure investments

By David Wessel from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

As politicians debate the merits of increased federal spending on infrastructure, the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy asked two prominent economists—Harvard University’s Lawrence Summers and Edward Glaeser—about the economic case for stepped-up infrastructure spending and their thoughts on how to spend any additional money most wisely. Here are the highlights of the conversation. […]
      
 
 

Since we clearly don’t understand sovereignty, I wish we’d shut up about it

By Jonn Elledge from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

The Peace of Westphalia has a lot to answer for.

You know, I sometimes wish we could ban the word “sovereignty” from the British political lexicon. It’s always felt to me like one of those concepts that must feel a lot more meaningful to large and powerful countries (which are used to getting their way) than it is to smaller ones (which are rather more used to having multinational corporations or passing armies meddling in their affairs). 

I’m clearly not alone in this: begin a Google search with “Does sovereignty...” and every option auto-complete offers is basically a question about whether it’s a real thing at all. Influence is real. Wealth is real. North Korea has precious little of those two things, but almost perfect sovereignty over its own affairs, and with the best will in the world, I’d rather be Luxembourg.

Anyway. Whatever my own thoughts on the matter, a lot of people, of the sort who think that freedom was invented by Magna Carta, disagree; and while this was by no means the only reason people voted for Brexit, it was in the mix. The slogan “Vote leave, take control” may have caused my eyes to roll so hard I could see my brain, but I’m weird, and it clearly resonated.

Well, I wish it hadn’t. Not just because my side lost, but because I think our national obsession with – and misunderstanding of – sovereignty is going to completely stuff us.

The English conception of sovereignty, after all, has at its root the assumption that all legitimate authority derives from the crown-in-parliament. It therefore follows that local councils are there primarily to do what the government tells them, and that lower tiers of government can be reformed or abolished at will. It also implies that any attempt to pool sovereignty with our neighbours in an attempt to get shit done must be some kind of shadowy European plot – and not simply a recognition that not all problems have nation state-level solutions.

There are a couple of problems with this attitude. One is that it’s almost designed to create disillusionment with politics, since whoever is in government, most people won’t have voted for them – yet they have no other outlet for expressing their views between here and the next election.

A second, rather more immediate problem is that two of the three Celtic countries might end up drifting out of the UK. The devolved parliaments in both Scotland and Northern Ireland are opposed to a Hard Brexit – and the latter, at least, has bloody good reasons for being so. Nonetheless, the Westminster government seems totally baffled by the idea that any other institution might get a say on things, an attitude which looks increasingly likely to go horribly, horribly wrong.

The big one, though, the one that’s got us to this point in history, is that we’ve totally misunderstood what the EU is. There was always a political element to it – ever closer union, and so forth – but even if it had been intended purely as a trading group, that would still have meant sharing sovereignty.

A common market, after all, requires common rules and standards, so that everyone can be confident the foreign goods flowing all over the place aren’t going to randomly burst into flames or something. Every country in the trading bloc thus has to agree to those rules – which means their governments are giving up a modicum of power in exchange for increased trade. This stuff is too complicated to agree at summits, so you need a permanent staff setting those rules. And it probably makes sense, after a fashion, to have an elected body to keep an eye on that permanent staff (hence a parliament, the Council of Ministers etc.).

All this seems to me to make sense: of course a single market should come with political oversight. Indeed, the democratic element of the EU is far stronger than those of other global trade bodies like the WTO. If Britain is going to keep trading after Brexit, which I assume is the plan, we’re still going to have to follow rules set by people who don’t sit in Westminster – only now we’re going to have a damn sight less influence over how those rule are set.

So why has our relationship to Europe never been discussed in these terms? Probably because it’s boring and wonkish, but also, I suspect, because we have no language for talking about sharing power to make international rules or solve international problems. Our conception of sovereignty is as something monolithic that emanates entirely from one gothic building in London SW1. The EU, with all the deals and compromises it requires, just doesn’t fit our political culture.

There is another conception of sovereignty as something can be divided and pooled. Last April one pro-Remain politician said that the referendum was:

...about how we maximise Britain’s security, prosperity and influence in the world, and how we maximise our sovereignty: that is, the control we have over our own affairs in future. (...)

International, multilateral institutions... invite nation states to make a trade-off: to pool and therefore cede some sovereignty in a controlled way, to prevent a greater loss of sovereignty in an uncontrolled way, through for example military conflict or economic decline.

In other words, sovereignty is not something indivisible. It can be traded and shared to create greater influence and prosperity for all.

Who gave that speech? The then home secretary, one Theresa May. Funny how times change isn’t it?

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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Photo: Getty

Let’s Make a (Nuclear) Deal

By Van Jackson from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Donald Trump’s transactional view of alliances is, perhaps by accident, largely compatible with the traditional narrative about what extended deterrence is: The United States supplies a “nuclear umbrella” that non-nuclear allies passively receive.  Even the term “extended deterrence” itself implies the one-way provision of capabilities and commitments to deter. In a new article in Contemporary ...

Trump’s Mexico-bashing hurts American interests too

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

The country has taken Mexican co-operation for granted. That is foolish

Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

By Julia Rampen from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Garry Knight via Creative Commons

PMQs review: Theresa May shows how her confidence has grown

By George Eaton from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

After her Brexit speech, the PM declared of Jeremy Corbyn: "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue". 

The woman derided as “Theresa Maybe” believes she has neutralised that charge. Following her Brexit speech, Theresa May cut a far more confident figure at today's PMQs. Jeremy Corbyn inevitably devoted all six of his questions to Europe but failed to land a definitive blow.

He began by denouncing May for “sidelining parliament” at the very moment the UK was supposedly reclaiming sovereignty (though he yesterday praised her for guaranteeing MPs would get a vote). “It’s not so much the Iron Lady as the irony lady,” he quipped. But May, who has sometimes faltered against Corbyn, had a ready retort. The Labour leader, she noted, had denounced the government for planning to leave the single market while simultaneously seeking “access” to it. Yet “access”, she went on, was precisely what Corbyn had demanded (seemingly having confused it with full membership). "I've got a plan - he doesn't have a clue,” she declared.

When Corbyn recalled May’s economic warnings during the referendum (“Does she now disagree with herself?”), the PM was able to reply: “I said if we voted to leave the EU the sky would not fall in and look at what has happened to our economic situation since we voted to leave the EU”.

Corbyn’s subsequent question on whether May would pay for single market access was less wounding than it might have been because she has consistently refused to rule out budget contributions (though yesterday emphasised that the days of “vast” payments were over).

When the Labour leader ended by rightly hailing the contribution immigrants made to public services (“The real pressure on public services comes from a government that slashed billions”), May took full opportunity of the chance to have the last word, launching a full-frontal attack on his leadership and a defence of hers. “There is indeed a difference - when I look at the issue of Brexit or any other issues like the NHS or social care, I consider the issue, I set out my plan and I stick to it. It's called leadership, he should try it some time.”

For May, life will soon get harder. Once Article 50 is triggered, it is the EU 27, not the UK, that will take back control (the withdrawal agreement must be approved by at least 72 per cent of member states). With MPs now guaranteed a vote on the final outcome, parliament will also reassert itself. But for now, May can reflect with satisfaction on her strengthened position.

Getty Images.

What Islamic State will do in 2017

By Raffaello Pantucci from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

In retreat across Syria and Iraq, will the newer terror group emulate the strategy honed by al-Qaeda?

Any predictions of Islamic State's demise are premature. During the surge towards Mosul at the end of last year, commentators repeatedly suggested this marked the beginning of the end for the extremist group. Yet, it still has the ability to launch attacks against its enemies both within Iraq and Syria, but also further afield. These trends are likely to continue, although security forces are increasingly learning how to mitigate the threat the group poses. The risk, however, is that the threat will continue to mutate.

The prospect of IS finding a way to regroup on the ground in Syria and Iraq can't be ruled out. While Iraqi forces are pursuing a systematic approach to retaking Mosul, it is possible the group will melt into the countryside and wait for attention to shift before surging back. How the Iraqi forces take back the city and whether they provide those in Sunni areas with reassurance over their political future will determine whether IS is able to find a supportive base from which it can rebuild. In Syria, while confusion continues to reign, it will continue to find a way to embed somewhere.

But there is no doubt that the group has lost some of its lustre and power. While there are still some individuals choosing to go and fight alongside the group, the numbers have fallen dramatically. A report in September last year from US intelligence indicated that from a peak of 2,000 a month, only about 50 individuals were assessed as crossing the border each month to go and fight alongside a range of groups including IS in Syria and Iraq.

In fact, the biggest concern is the flow of people back. Foreign fighters disenfranchised by losses on the ground or tired after years of conflict are heading home. Some are no doubt eager to seek a conflict-free life, but others are being sent back to build networks or launch attacks. German authorities believe they disrupted at least two such cells in June and September of last year, linking them to the Paris bombers and unclear whether they were sent back to launch attacks or prepare ground for others. Similarly, Italian intelligence has raised concerns about the return of Balkan jihadists as a threat to Europe, pointing to the believed return to the region of Kosovan IS leader Lavdrim Muhaxheri with somewhere between 300-400 ISIS fighters. They have already been linked to one specific plot against a football game, and suspected of potentially again laying ground for others.

These individuals will join the continuing ranks of "lone wolf" or "failed traveller" attackers that we have seen in Europe and around the world in the past year. In Anis Amri's attack in Berlin, or the murder of the priest in Rouen, we see individuals who apparently aspired to travel to Syria, failed to do so, and instead perpetrated attacks in Europe. We also see individuals latching on to the group's violent ideology to launch attacks. This includes Omar Mateen, who butchered 50 in a shooting at an Orlando nightclub which he claimed to be doing on behalf of the group - although no clear link was uncovered. Given the basic methods used and the broad range of targets, it is highly likely that more of these loners (either instigated or self-starting) will emerge to wreak havoc in the coming year.

Finally, it is important to not forget IS affiliates around the world like Boko Haram in Nigeria, IS in Khorasan (Afghanistan), Sinai, Libya, or Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines. There has always been some element of scepticism around the legitimacy of the links these groups have to the core operation, with speculation that some of their pledges of allegiance are more an expression of anger at al Qaeda or some other local group. Yet there is usually some evidence to support the association – most prominently with IS core in the Levant acknowledging them in their material. As we see the group's core shrink in strength, these regional affiliates could rise up to take greater prominence or to take on a greater leadership mantle.

It is also possible that the core group in Syria/Iraq will use these affiliates to launch attacks or re-establish themselves. We have already seen how individuals linked to the Paris attacks were reportedly killed in Libya, and there is growing evidence that IS in Khorasan, the Afghan affiliate, has seen some back and forth of fighters. In future, it is possible that we may see these groups rise up in a more pronounced way. More acute problems might start to emerge from Libya, Afghanistan and Sinai where substantial affiliates appear to operate, or Nigeria, Pakistan or Southeast Asia where there is a more confusing aspect to the ISIS affiliates. There, the degree of strong connection with the core organisation is unclear, with it sometimes seeming that the adoption of the IS banner is rather an expression of local divisions between militant groups. If the pressure on the group in the Levant intensifies over the next year, these groups might look like tempting ways of distracting western security agencies through attacks that cause governments to re-allocate resources away from the Levant and thereby take some pressure off the group's leadership in Syria and Iraq.

This would emulate al-Qaeda’s strategy. There have been moments historically when the core organisation pushed its affiliates to launch attacks to try to take pressure off the core group. This happened between al-Qaeda core in Pakistan and its Yemeni affiliate between 2003-2009. Similarly, al-Qaeda has realised that sometimes not declaring loud Caliphates and committing public atrocities such as televised beheadings, but instead committing targeted acts of terror and endearing itself to local populations to build support from the ground up, is a more productive way forwards. 

How the outside world will react is a further unknown element. Donald Trump has stated he will eliminate the group, but he has not outlined a strategy for how he will achieve this. There is little evidence that the US could do much more than deploy greater force on the ground (whose ultimate goal and success would be unclear). The announced Saudi alliance to counter the group has not so far done a huge amount, and European powers remain secondary players. It is unclear that any country is preparing a Russian-style push with the potential human and political risks attached, meaning we are unlikely to see a dramatic change.

For IS, the conflict they are fighting is a millennial one for God's greater glory and temporal timelines like our calendar are largely irrelevant. Dramatic events like the loss of cities or leadership figures may change its dynamic, and in some cases significantly degrade its capacity, but are unlikely to eradicate the group. Rather, it will continue to evolve and grow regionally primarily, but also internationally, with attacks against western targets a continuing interest.

Once the war in Syria settles down, and Iraq becomes unified, discussions may be possible about how to eradicate the group, but this is unlikely to take place in the next 12 months given the continuing fighting on the ground in the face of a ceasefire which in any case includes neither IS or al-Qaeda affiliates, meaning another year of the world remaining in state of high alert is likely. Were peace to break out, IS would find itself in a complicated situation, but this would require a very substantial change of situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq. That, unfortunately, looks some way off.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of ‘We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen’

Mosul. Photo: Getty

Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

By Ed Smith from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

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The New Statesman Cover | The Trump era

By New Statesman from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

A first look at this week's magazine.

20 - 26 January
The Trump era

Scottish voters don't want hard Brexit - and they have a say in the future too

By Angus Robertson from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Leaving the single market is predicted to cost Scottish workers £2,000 a year,

After months of dithering, delaying and little more than scribbled notes in Downing Street we now know what Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit looks like. It is the clearest sign yet of just how far the Tories are willing to go to ignore the democratic will of the people of Scotland.  
 
The Tories want to take Scotland out of the single market - a market eight times bigger than the UK’s alone - which will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs and cut wages by £2,000 a year, according to the Fraser of Allander Institute.
 
And losing our place in the single market will not only affect Scotland's jobs but future investment too.
 
For example, retaining membership of, and tariff-free access to, the single market is crucial to sustainability and growth in Scotland’s rural economy.  Reverting to World Trade Organisation terms would open sections of our agricultural sector, such as cattle and sheep, up to significant risk. This is because we produce at prices above the world market price but are protected by the EU customs area.
 
The SNP raised the future of Scotland’s rural economy in the House of Commons yesterday as part of our Opposition Day Debate - not opposition for opposition’s sake, as the Prime Minister might say, but holding the UK Government to account on behalf of people living in Scotland.
 
The Prime Minister promised to share the UK Government’s Brexit proposals with Parliament so that MPs would have an opportunity to examine and debate them. But apparently we are to make do with reading about her 12-point plan in the national press.  This is unacceptable. Theresa May must ensure MPs have sufficient time to properly scrutinise these proposals.
 
It is welcome that Parliament will have a vote on the final Brexit dea,l but the Prime Minister has failed to provide clarity on how the voices of the devolved administrations will be represented in that vote.  To deny the elected representatives of the devolved nations a vote on the proposals, while giving one to the hundreds of unelected Lords and Ladies, highlights even further the democratic deficit Scotland faces at Westminster.  
 
The Scottish government is the only government to the UK to publish a comprehensive plan to keep Scotland in the single market - even if the rest of the UK leaves.
 
While the Prime Minister said she is willing to cooperate with devolved administrations, if she is arbitrarily ruling out membership of the single market, she is ignoring a key Scottish government priority.  Hardly the respect you might expect Scotland as an “equal partner” to receive. 
 
Scotland did not vote for these proposals - the UK government is playing to the tune of the hard-right of the Tory party, and it is no surprise to see that yesterday’s speech has delighted those on the far-right.
 
If the Tories insist on imposing a hard Brexit and refuse to listen to Scotland’s clear wishes, then the people of Scotland have the right to consider what sort of future they want.
 
SNP MPs will ensure that Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster and do everything in our power to ensure that Scotland is protected from the Tory hard Brexit. 

 

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The Future of Air Superiority, Part IV: Autonomy, Survivability, and Getting to 2030

By Brig. Gen. Alex Grynkewich from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Editor’s Note: Do not miss the first article in this series, “The Imperative” the second, “The 2030 Problem,” and the third, “Defeating A2/AD.”   We will require fresh thinking to control the skies of the future.  Gaining and maintaining air superiority in 2030 will require new concepts of operation.  It will require a rejection of platform-based ...

Mattis Talks Nukes, But is Trump Listening?

By Al Mauroni from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Over the next year, many observers will be closely watching how the incoming administration addresses America’s nuclear arsenal. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) report, a legislatively mandated review of the U.S. nuclear posture, provides Congress with the administration’s plans to develop nuclear policy, strategy, and capabilities. It is unclear as to whether or when we ...

Make Turkish-American Relations Great Again: Advice for the Trump Administration

By Burak Kadercan from War on the Rocks. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

As Donald Trump becomes president this Friday, relations between Turkey and the United States are worse off than they have ever been. The coup attempt in July instantly led to a crack in Turkish-American relations, even pushing numerous analysts in both countries to either prepare for or to accelerate the process of a “rupture” between ...

The Economist explains: Why “Europe’s last dictatorship” is offering visa-free entry

By from European Union. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Main image:  AT A time when Europe’s popular mood is turning inward, the drive to open borders is coming from unexpected quarters. Last week, Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, signed a decree allowing citizens from the European Union, America and 51 other countries visa-free entry to the country. The policy has limits: visitors are only eligible for exemption if they enter Belarus via Minsk Airport and stay for a maximum of five days. Yet for Mr Lukashenko, a man dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” who rules a country long seen as a Russian satellite, the move signals a significant shift. Why is Belarus suddenly opening to the West?Mr Lukashenko’s baby steps towards visa liberalisation, in fact, do not come out of the blue. They are another stage in the gradual, tentative rapprochement between the EU and Belarus—and the latest instalment of a quiet geostrategic battle being waged in Russia’s near abroad. The relative thaw comes after relations came to a halt in the wake of Belarus’s 2010 presidential elections, which saw brutal repression by the regime. It is largely motivated by Mr Lukashenko’s desire to reduce its security dependence on Russia, in the wake of its intervention in Ukraine. The president, whose personal relationship with Vladimir Putin has never been great, feels ever more ...

Russia and the West After the Ukrainian Crisis

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

Given Russia's annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, Europe must reassess the regional security environment. This report analyzes the vulnerability of European states to possible forms of Russian influence, pressure, and intimidation.

Modeling Dr. Dynasaur 2.0 Coverage and Finance Proposals

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

The authors assessed an expansion of Vermont's Dr. Dynasaur program that would cover all residents through age 25. The current program provides health coverage for children ages 0-18 with family incomes below 317 percent of the federal poverty level.

Exploring America's Role in a Turbulent World

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

This brief outlines the Strategic Rethink project and describes research documented in the final volume of the project, focusing on three different strategic orientations to satisfy the greatest number of U.S. interests and objectives.

Strategic Choices for a Turbulent World

From New RAND Publications. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

This report is the last of a series in which RAND explores the elements of a national strategy for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, in this new era of turbulence and uncertainty. Three alternative strategic concepts are presented.

How the mantra of centrism gave populism its big break

By Anonymous from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 18, 2017.

A Labour insider reflects on the forces behind the march of populism. 

For just under a quarter of a century, British politics has been dominated by what might be called, paradoxically, a “theology of centrism” - the belief that most people were more concerned with what works than ideology, and that politics should principally be the art of improving the delivery of public goods. It was a theology that, for all their policy differences, united Tony Blair and David Cameron. Anyone who thought electoral success could be won anywhere but from the centre was either naïve or fanatical, or both... but definitely wrong.

Now, populism is on the march across the West. In Britain, as elsewhere, the political class is unnerved and baffled.

So what happened? Partly, as with all revolutions in politics, the answer is: “events”. Unsuccessful wars, economic crashes and political scandals all played their part. But that isn’t enough of an explanation. In fact, the rise of populist politics has also been a direct result of the era of centrism. Here is what has taken place:

1. A hollow left and right

First, the theology of centrism was the culmination of a decades-long hollowing out of mainstream politics on the left and right.

In the mid-20th century, Conservatism was a rich tapestry of values – tradition, localism, social conservatism, paternalism and fiscal modesty, to name but a few. By 1979, this tapestry had been replaced by a single overriding principle - faith in free-market liberalism. One of Margaret Thatcher's great achievements was to turn a fundamentalist faith in free markets into the hallmark of moderate centrism for the next generation of leaders.

It is a similar story on the left. In the mid-20th century, the left was committed to the transformation of workplace relations, the collectivisation of economic power, strong civic life in communities, internationalism, and protection of family life. By the turn of the 21st century, the left’s offer had narrowed significantly – accepting economic liberalism and using the proceeds of growth to support public investment and redistribution. It was an approach committed to managing the existing economy, not transforming the structure of it or of society.

And it was an approach that relied on good economic times to work. So when those good times disappeared after the financial crash, the centrism of both parties was left high and dry. The political economic model of New Labour disappeared in the first days of October 2008. And when a return to Tory austerity merely compounded the problem of stagnant living standards, public faith in the economic liberalism of the centre-ground was mortally wounded.

2. Fatalism about globalisation

Second, Labour and Tory politics-as-usual contained a fatalism about globalisation. The right, obsessed with economic liberalism, welcomed globalisation readily. The left under Bill Clinton in the US and Blair in the UK made their parties’ peace with it. But globalisation was not a force to be managed or mitigated. It was to be accepted wholesale. In fact, in his 2005 Conference speech, PM Tony Blair chastised those who even wanted to discuss it. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation," he said. “You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They're not debating it in China and India.” (I bet they were, and still are.) The signal to voters was that it was not legitimate to fret about the pace and consequences of change. No wonder, when the fretting began, people turned away from these same politicians.

3. A narrowing policy gap

Third, the modernising projects of Blair and Cameron ended up producing a politics that was, to use Peter Mair’s term, “cartelised”. The backgrounds, worldviews and character of party elites began to converge significantly. Both parties’ leaderships accepted the same external conditions under which British politics operated – globalisation, economic liberalism, sceptical acceptance of the EU, enthusiasm for closeness to the US on security issues. The policy space between both main parties narrowed like never before. As a result, economic and class divisions in the country were less and less reflected in political divisions in Westminster.

The impression arose, with good reason, of an intellectual, cultural and financial affinity between politicians across the main divide, and between the political class and big business. This affinity in turn gave rise to a perception of “groupthink” across the elite, on issues from expenses to Europe, and one that came with a tin ear to the concerns of struggling families. It may be misleading it is to depict all politicians as snug and smug members of a remote Establishment. Nevertheless, social and economic convergence inside Westminster party politics gave populists an opportunity to present themselves as the antidote not just to Labour or the Tories, but to conventional politics as a whole.

4. New political divides

Lastly, the populist moment was created by the way in which new electoral cleavages opened up, but were ignored by the main political parties. The last decade has seen a global financial crash that has restored economic insecurity to frontline politics. But at the same time, we are witnessing a terminal decline of normal party politics based fundamentally on the division between a centre-left and centre-right offering competing economic policies. 

Of course economics and class still matter to voting. But a new cleavage has emerged that rivals and threatens to eclipse it - globalism vs nationalism. Globalists are economically liberal, positive about trade, culturally cosmopolitan, socially progressive, with a benign view of globalisation and faith in international law and cooperation. Nationalists are hostile to both social and economic liberalism, want more regulation and protection, are sceptical of trade, see immigration as an economic and cultural threat, and have little time for the liberal international order.

The factors that drive this new electoral divide are not just about voters’ economic situation. Age, geography and education levels matter – a lot. Initially both main parties were tectonically slow to respond to this new world. But populism – whether Ukip, the SNP or Theresa May's Tories – has thrived on the erosion of the traditional class divide, and sown seeds of panic into the Labour party as it faces the prospect of sections of its traditional core vote peeling away.

Centrists thought their politics was moderate, pragmatic, not ideological. But signing up to free market liberalism, globalisation and an economistic view of politics turned out to be seen as a curious kind of fundamentalism, one which was derailed by the 2008 crisis. The exhaustion of the theology of centrism did not create populism – but it did allow it a chance to appeal and succeed.

Those on the left and right watching the march of populism with trepidation need to understand this if they are to respond to it successfully. The answer to the rise of populist politics is not to mimic it, but to challenge it with a politics that wears its values proudly, and develops a vision of Britain’s future (not just its economy) on the foundation of those values. Populists need to be challenged for having the wrong values, as well as for having anger instead of solutions.

But calling for a return to centrism simply won’t work. It plays precisely to what has become an unfair but embedded caricature of New Labour and Notting Hill conservatism – power-hungry, valueless, a professional political class. It suggests a faith in moderate managerialism at a time when that has been rejected by events and the public. And it tells voters to reconcile themselves to globalisation, when they want politicians to wrestle a better deal out of it.

Stewart Wood, Lord Wood of Anfield, was a special adviser to No. 10 Downing Street from 2007 to 2010 and an adviser to former Labour leader Ed Miliband. 

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Case Watch: Europe’s Human Rights Court Delivers Mixed Ruling on Migrants Rights (Part Two)

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

In Khlaifia v. Italy, Europe’s top human rights tribunal found that migrants in migration “hotspot” facilities in Italy are being detained outside the law.

The global economy in 2017: Hope in the face of policy uncertainty and weak investment growth

By Ayhan Kose from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

The 12 months just ended were a slog for the world economy, something being pondered in Davos, Switzerland this week at the World Economic Forum annual meeting. Weak international trade and subdued investment, among other culprits, conspired to slow world growth to its weakest pace since 2009. And even though the outlook is modestly brighter […]
      
 
 

Trump Says Europe Is in Trouble. He Has a Point.

By Council on Foreign Relations from CFR.org - Politics and Strategy. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

Germany’s foreign minister reports “astonishment and agitation.” The French president protests indignantly about unsolicited “outside advice .” Even Secretary of State John F. Kerry sees behavior that is “inappropriate.” President-elect Donald Trump’s weekend interview, in which he casually predicted the breakup of the European Union, has certainly attracted attention.

How One Man Made Greece a More Welcoming Place for Refugees

From Open Society Foundations - Europe. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

When Vasilis Tsartsanis noticed Syrian refugees arriving in his town, he decided to help them, an act of kindness that would change their lives—and his own.

How One Man Made Greece a More Welcoming Place for Refugees

From Open Society Foundations - European Union. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

When Vasilis Tsartsanis noticed Syrian refugees arriving in his town, he decided to help them, an act of kindness that would change their lives—and his own.

The dangers of ignoring voters in west Africa

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

By refusing to stand down, Gambia’s president risks confrontation

The top children’s TV show conspiracy theories

By Eleanor Margolis from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

From randy Postman Pat to white supremacist Smurfs, we present to you your childhood in tatters.

We can probably all agree that, these days, nothing is sacred. If you can (as a few very insistent YouTube videos have told me) pay to watch live snuff films on the dark web, there’s probably someone out there – in the thronging nest of perversions that is the internet – ready to take something special from your childhood (say, a favourite TV programme) and make it unclean.

Which is exactly what happened when an internet-spawned theory found history’s least sexual fictional character, Postman Pat, to be a stop motion sex monster. The theory goes that he has fathered a lot of children in the village school, many of whom have ginger hair; Pat is the only red head in Greendale.


Because humans are incapable of not picking at every innocent thing until it goes gangrenous, here are some other childhood-ruining fan theories.

Babar is a colonial stooge


Babar lording it over the colonies. Photo: Flickr/Vanessa

Could everyone’s favourite anthropomorphic French elephant be an apologist for centuries of Western brutality and conquest? Well, yes, obviously. According to the “Holy Hell Is Babar Problematic” theory, the fact that the titular character was born in Africa, raised and “civilised” in Paris, then sent back to Elephant Land to be king and teach all the other elephants how to be French, makes Babar about as suitable for children as a Ladybird introduction to eugenics and a Playmobil King Leopold.

For further proof that this theory isn’t “political correctness gone mad”, but actually political correctness gone quite sensible, just look at some of the (deeply un-OK) illustrations from the 1949 book Babar’s Picnic.

The Smurfs are white supremacists


A horrifying vision of ethnic uniformity. Photo: Getty

Or maybe “blue supremacists” would be more accurate. Either way, they’re racist. Possibly. It’s been pointed out that the Smurfs all wear pointy white hats. Apart from their leader, Papa Smurf (the ultimate patriarch..?), who wears a red one. Meaning these tiny munchkin thingies are (maybe, just maybe) sartorially influenced by none other than the Ku Klux Klan.

This seems tenuous at best, until you look at a few other factors in this theory brought to light by French political scientist Antoine Buéno. Buéno suggests that the dictatorial political structure of Smurf Village paired with some actually quite convincing racism (when Smurfs turn black, for example, they become barbaric and lose the power of speech), equals Nazism.

What’s more, the Smurfs’ main antagonist – a wizard called Gargamel – is not unlike an antisemitic caricature from Nazi propaganda magazine Der Stürmer. He’s dark haired, hook-nosed and obsessed with gold. Oh, and he has a cat called Azrael, which is the Hebrew name for the Angel of Death.


 

A photo posted by furkan (@furkanhaytaoglu) on


And, in case you’re not already far enough down the “Smurfs are racist” rabbit hole, just look at Smurfette and her long, blonde hair. Aryan much?

SpongeBob SquarePants is a post-nuclear mutant


Forever running from haunting memories of radioactive atrocity. Photo: Flickr/Kooroshication

According to one fan theory, this Nickelodeon classic may have more in common with The Hills Have Eyes than we think. SpongeBob, a talking sponge who lives in an underwater pineapple with a meowing snail, may well be the product of nuclear testing.

In the Forties, the US detonated two nukes in an area of the Pacific called Bikini Atoll. SpongeBob lives somewhere called Bikini Bottom. Coincidence, or an especially dark analogy for the dangers of radiation and man’s lust for destruction? Hm.

Tom and Jerry is Nazi propaganda


Skipping merrily through the Third Reich. Photo: Flickr/momokacma

Either we’re so obsessed with Nazism that we look for it (and find it…) in literally everything, or the antics of a classic cat and mouse duo really do contain coded messages about the futility of the Allies’ war with the Third Reich.

If we’re going for the latter, let’s start with the characters’ names. Tom (Tommies were British soldiers) and Jerry (Jerries were German ones). Now remember, Tom is the bad guy. In every episode, he tries to kill Jerry by any means possible, but is foiled every single time, getting blown up by sticks of dynamite and flattened by falling anvils along the way.

Tom and Jerry first aired in 1940 – the same year as the Battle of Britain. So, if the reference to slang for Brits and Germans was unintentional, it was more than a little bit unfortunate. And, according to some albeit sketchy-looking corners of the internet, this was no accident at all but a message (in that Jerry constantly outwits Tom) about superior German intelligence.

Although this may seem like the least compelling of all of these dark fan theories, it would explain why I always had a gut feeling the painfully smug Jerry was the actual baddie.

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May’s bold vision of Britain after Brexit

From Financial Times - FT View. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

A refreshingly optimistic tone leaves many details to be decided

Health insurance as assurance: The importance of keeping the ACA’s limits on enrollee health costs

By Paul Ginsburg from Brookings: Up Front. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

Protecting patients against catastrophic health expenses and medical bill-induced bankruptcy is often cited as the core purpose of health insurance. Yet lifetime limits on coverage and the lack of annual out-of-pocket (OOP) limits, which were commonplace in private insurance before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) banned the practices, negate this central function of insurance (traditional […]
      
 
 

The Wallets

By Colin Barrett from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

A short story by Colin Barrett.

Doon was doing nothing, just killing time, while he waited for his mam to finish at meeting. Once she went down the steps into the basement he got out of there. The hour was too long to wait and he did not like seeing the others. There was always one freshly dire specimen hanging around outside, wrung-eyed and jitter-limbed and making a pitiable hames of trying to light up a cigarette. Sometimes he recognised the parent of some kid out of his class. He didn’t want to see the parents and he didn’t want them to see him. The meetings were another world. His mam went down there and an hour later she came back out.

He did laps of the town with his hoodie up. The drawstrings of his hoodie had little laminate tubes at the end that flailed as he walked. It was autumn, blond and ochre and umber leaves matted together and turning to slick mush underfoot. He was wearing dark olive combat boots laced tight, the ends of his combat trousers crimped into the tops of the boots. Passing an apartment block he saw something on the blue wooden slats of a bench seat. It was a wallet. He commended himself for noticing it and kept right on walking. As he walked he clenched his stomach muscles, an isometric exercise to promote definition and also a means of keeping warm.

He browsed a Men’s Fitness magazine in a newsagents, reread three times an article detailing the correct techniques for executing power cleans and deadlifts off the rack, and bought a large raspberry slushie. He’d loved slushies as a kid. Every six months or so, usually in one of the small newsagents still scattered around the town, he’d notice the plastic rotors mesmerically churning the blue- and blood-coloured ice in their transparent bins, and would buy one. Only after tasting it would he remember how nauseating they were. Three strawfuls in and there was already the sickly sensation of the syrup turning in his stomach and a bout of brainfreeze running through his head like static.

He went a few doors down, into the lobby of the Western Range Hotel. Still stubbornly sucking on the slushie, he strolled into the hotel bar. The bar was a spacious rectangle of smoked glass, carved teak and piped muzak, and went back a long way. Four men in suits were stalled by the counter, luggage cases on wheels poised beside them like immaculately behaved pets. A pair of them bid goodbye to the others, and headed towards the lobby. Doon watched the automated doors, the way they seemed to flinch before smoothly and decisively giving way. To escape the chatter of the remaining men he went and stood at the far end of the room. A recessed bank of floor-to-ceiling windows yielded a direct view on to the town’s main street, already streaming with Saturday morning shoppers. He watched the flow of bodies, the pockets of arrest within the flow. Directly across the street was the gated rear entrance to the county district court. The gating was innocuous, black bars without identifying signage, and if you did not know it led into the court, you would not have been able to tell. The gate was ajar, a concrete step leading down into the narrow mouth of an alley. In the alley a tall redheaded woman in a suit jacket was urgently conferring with a rough unit on one crutch. The man’s smashed-and-resmashed-looking face, the colour of baked clay, was tilted towards the sky. It was impossible to tell his age. He was leaning on his crutch and staring into the blazing nullity of the sky as the woman attempted to direct his attention to something in the heavy-looking black ledger she was holding tucked against her diaphragm. A page lifted up, levitated free of the ledger and fluttered down the street. The woman cursed, slammed closed the ledger, and stooped after the page as it curlicued along at shin level. The man turned his face from the sky and stared with bovine dispassion at her scooting, bobbing rump.

“You can’t eat that in here.”

Doon turned. The barman was behind him, a kid not much older than Doon with awry lugs glowing either side of his head, his black barman’s shirt squeezed over a snub-nosed paunch.

“I’m not eating anything.”

“That.” The barman pointed at the slushie. “Can’t eat that in here.”

“Don’t make me correct you again, I’m not eating anything,” Doon said, and took an emphatic suck of the slushie. From the depth of the plastic cup came a clotted suctioning noise that reminded him of being at the dentist: Snnnrgggkkk.

“C’mon man,” the barman said, his fussy little face turning the same colour as his lugs. “Just go finish it outside.”

“You get at all your potential customers like this?”

“You’re not a customer.”

“Could’ve been a case I was about to be.”

Snnnrgggkkk.

“Even if you want something, you’ve to finish that outside first.”

Snnnrgggkkk.

“So no one’s allowed just stand here for five minutes, make their mind up on giving you their custom.”

“Not no one,” the barman said, “but you’re you. You’ve to take that outside.”

“Nah.”

“C’mon.”

“This is profiling, lad,” Doon said.

The two men remaining at the bar were watching this exchange. The older, a tall lean man with grey hair, laughed, then cut the air with his hand, like enough.

“Lad’s got a point,” the grey-haired man said to the barman, indicating Doon with a nod of his head.

“We have a policy,” the barman croaked.

“What’s that?” The man went on, “Harass the kid with the skint head and hoodie? So he’s eating a slushie, so what? I worked in a bar myself when I was a young buck. Just let the shift see itself out if it’s going quiet, lad and don’t give patrons grief that aren’t giving you grief.”

Snnnrgggkkk.

“See, listen to the oul fella,” Doon said and grinned at the man.

The man grinned back.

“Let’s resolve this simply,” the man said, taking out his wallet. “I’ll get him something, so then he counts as a customer, and we can all let him finish his drink in peace. Do you want a Coke or a coffee, lad?”

“Pint of Guinness, fella,” Doon said.

“Ha, now, lad. What age are you? I’ll buy you a coffee but I’m not buying a minor a pint on a Saturday morning.”

Doon took an extended, convulsive suck of the slushie’s remnants as the barman beetled in behind the counter. When it was empty, Doon placed the cup on the bartop.

“You’re alright so then. Coffee’s worse for you than drink,” Doon said. He considered the two men again, and grinned. “You boys are in a savagely dapper condition for this town, even of a Saturday afternoon. Is there a wedding in or something?”

The men smiled at each other. The younger one, who had a V-shaped hairline with a bald patch spreading out from his crown, like Zinedine Zidane, shook his head. “We were in for a convention. Sales conference for the NorthWest Connaught Regional Estate Agents Association.”

“Christ, I lost interest halfway through that sentence,” Doon said.

The grey-haired man grinned again.

“So,” the barman interjected, but talking to the man, not Doon. “Did you want a coffee then, or?”

“You heard me decline the fella, didn’t you?” Doon sneered. Now he turned his back on the men, to focus his ire squarely upon the barman. “Congratulations, son, three souls in your dying-on-it’s-hole bar and you’re successfully chasing a third of them off. Profiling is what you were doing.”

Doon began walking backwards towards the lobby, his face bright with contempt.

“Your mam’ll be well proud. Speaking of which, tell her I said hello,” Doon said, and stuck his raspberry-coated tongue all the way out.

He heard the two men behind him chuckle again and his leading heel struck something. “Watch,” he heard the grey-haired man say as he swung his other heel into place alongside the first. He turned, knocking over the carry cases. “Jesus,” Doon said, stepping across the two men at the exact moment they stepped forward to right their luggage. “Sorry,” he said, feinting to step one way, then another, but somehow ending up still between them and the cases. He faced the grey-haired man and grabbed hold of his forearms, as if balancing or restraining him. The man stepped back and Doon stepped with him, like a dance partner.

“Sorry, lads, sorry,” he said to the man. He was close to the man’s face. The man’s face was indrawn and baffled. Then Doon stepped off him. He turned, picked up and righted the man’s case.

“I’m all of a daze with the harassment,” he said, gripping the case’s handle and yanking it twice to extend it out, before offering the handle to the man. The man looked at it, looked at Doon, and took it. Doon was already walking straight towards the automated doors.

He went through the lobby and out on to the street. He looked left and right, because that’s what people do. He checked the wallet, took the nice big fifty, left the two tens and a fiver. He went back in, said, “Found that outside, doll,” to the best-looking receptionist, dropped the wallet on the counter and went straight back out again.

 

***

 

His mother, as usual, was one of the first ones out. She came straight up the steps with her head facing forward and did not look back. She handed him the car keys and they walked towards the car park. They passed the apartment block. The wallet was still there, on the bench, and the instant Doon knew his mother would see it, she did. She stopped. “Look at that wallet some eejit’s after leaving there.”

“Come on,” Doon said.

“Check it to see if it says whose it is,” she said, nudging him.

Doon stayed in place. “Leave it. It’s not our concern.”

His mam looked at Doon and smiled. “‘Not our concern,’” she repeated. “Christ lad, where you get your talk from sometimes. You sound like a policeman.”

“A policeman’d be over there rooting through it with his big snout.”

“I don’t mean the sentiment,” his mam said, “I mean the tone.”

“Feck off,” Doon said.

“Now, now, don’t be regressing to sewer-mouthery just cos I’ve hit a nerve.”

“You’ve NOT touched a nerve,” Doon snapped.

She placed her hand on his neck.

“I mean you’ve got this authority to you,” she said. “It’s just your way. My lad. Soul of a policeman.”

Colin Barrett’s debut short story collection, “Young Skins” (Vintage), won the Guardian First Book Award and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award

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SRSLY #77: Unfortunate Events / The Worst Witch / Speed Dial

By Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

On the pop culture podcast this week: we discuss the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the new CBBC version of The Worst Witch and the MTV podcast Speed Dial.

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

A Series of Unfortunate Events

The trailer for the series. 

Anna's piece on the postmodern aspects of the show.

Neil Patrick Harris' opening number for the 2011 Tonys.

The Worst Witch

The trailer.

How the show discusses imposter syndrome among young women.

Speed Dial

Subscribe to the podcast.

Follow Ira Madison III and Doreen St Felix on Twitter.

For next time:

Anna is watching Silicon Valley.

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 #76, check it out here.

Theresa May's Brexit gamble

By Stephen Bush from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

The Prime Minister is betting that the economic hit from putting border control first will be delayed and go unnoticed. 

Britain’s European referendum was about immigration. That doesn’t mean the country was divided on it. Had the question been a Yes/No proposition on whether or not immigration was a good thing, it would have between a 78 to 22 per cent rout for Brexit.  As it was, what separated those who opted for a Remain vote over those who backed a Leave one was not whether or not you thought that immigration to Britain should be lowered. Remain did, however, 88 per cent of the vote from the pro-immigration majority.

The real dividing line was between people who thought that bringing down immigration would come at a cost that they were unwilling to pay, and people who thought that it could be done without cost, or, at least, without a cost that they would have to pay. Remain voters, on the whole, accepted both that there would be an economic consequence to reducing immigration generally and they’d pay for it personally, while Leave voters tended only to accept that there was a cost to be paid for it in general.

That leaves politicians in a bind, electorally speaking. There undoubtedly is a majority to be found at the ballot box for reducing immigration and there is an immediate electoral dividend to be reaped from pursuing a Brexit deal that puts border control above everything else.

But as every poll, every election and the entire history of human behaviour shows, the difficulty is that this particular coalition is single use only. It’s very similar to the majority that David Cameron and George Osborne won to cut £12bn out of the welfare bill. People backed it at the ballot box but revolted at the prospect of cuts to tax credits, one of the few ways that the cuts could possibly be achieved. In the end, the cuts were abandoned and George Osborne’s hopes of securing the Conservative leadership were, if not permanently derailed, at least severely delayed.

The nightmare scenario for Theresa May is that the majority for border control dissolves as quickly on impact with reality as the planned cuts to tax credits did.  That’s also the dream for the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who, due to Labour’s embrace of the Conservative approach of abandoning single market membership, are well-placed to benefit if everything comes unravelled.

Who’s right? In both cases, the gamble is clear. There will be a heavy economic price to be paid through leaving the single market. The question is whether that price will come in one big shock or be paid out over a number of years. If the effect of leaving the single market is an immediate fall in people’s standard of living, job losses and negative equity, then Theresa May will find herself in jeopardy. But if the effect is longer-term, and the consequences of Britain’s single market exit are only made clear when in 2030, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to abandon promises made to pensioners at a time when the pound was worth more than the Euro, then May will be able to reap the electoral dividend of getting Britain’s borders under control.

But there’s a more pessimistic future than either of these. The worst-case scenario isn’t that we all become poorer and the freedom of future governments to do what they want is sharply reduced by its weaker financial consequences. It’s that the economic hit is immediate, noticeable, but that the blame centres not on the incumbent government, but on immigrants and minorities.  

Photo: Getty

An Israel-Palestine peace conference—without Israel or Palestine

By The Economist online from Middle East and Africa. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

IT WAS, even by the dispiriting standards of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, a futile concept: a peace conference without either of the warring parties. On January 15th diplomats from more than 70 countries flew to Paris for a summit against which Israeli officials had been inveighing for weeks. Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, called it “rigged” and his defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, compared it to the Dreyfus trial. So the French government, keen to avoid the embarrassment of having Israel refuse to attend, did not invite either side. It was “like a wedding without a bride and groom,” quipped Naftali Bennett, Israel’s right-wing education minister.

After a full day of debate, the diplomats issued a two-page declaration that urged both sides to “commit to the two-state solution…[and to] take urgent steps in order to reverse the current negative trends on the ground.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Parts of it were copied verbatim from the closing statement of the previous Paris peace conference, held in June.

Reactions to it were apathetic. Israelis are more preoccupied with a criminal...Continue reading

As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

By Ian McMillan from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

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1q2w3e4r: Do you have one of the most common passwords of 2016?

By Amelia Tait from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

Research has revealed the 25 most common passwords in the world.

Despite the deforestation of 48 football fields’ worth of trees every minute, the 764,762,571 war deaths in all recorded history, and the recent election of a bloated Wotsit with eyes as leader of the free world, human beings have – and have always had – the audacity to consider themselves intelligent. 

The recent release of the most common passwords of 2016 (by security firm Keeper) will finally put this myth to an end. Human beings are now officially dumb, so very dumb. How dumb? Dumb enough that the most common password in the world, FOR THE FIFTH YEAR RUNNING, is “123456”.

As my colleague Jonn was kind enough to point out, you could at least mix things up with a “123457”

Keeper analysed 10 million passwords that were leaked through multiple data breaches that occurred in 2016 to come up with a list of the 25 most common. Nearly 17 per cent of people, according to their data, use 123456, while 123456789 came in second place. 

In third place was our boy qwerty, with fourth and fifth being taken by 12345678, and 111111.

The first real surprise (apart from the fact that we've now got smart enough for the password password to drop to eighth place) is that the twelfth most popular password of 2016 was mynoob

Some of the passwords on the list actually seem quite complicated, at first, with 1q2w3e4r taking 17th place. Keeper calls this a “sequential key variation” – meaning users have dropped alternately from the first and second line of their keyboard to choose their password. Despite being seemingly complex, a cursory glance at your keyboard will reveal that this is very easy to crack.

Other unusual options on the list – including 18atcskd2w – are explained by security expert Graham Cluley as passwords used over and over by spam bots, which set up multiple accounts in order to send spam and other attacks. 

In order to stay secure online it is imperative that you change your password if it appears on this list. Password manager services will allow you to set up multiple, random passwords and keep their details safe and secure, and you can also set up two-factor authentication on many online services, which means, most often, that you can get a log-in code sent to your phone to use alongside your password. For more information, see this guide on password managers for beginners.

See the full list of the most common passwords of 2016 below.

1.    123456
2.    123456789
3.    qwerty
4.    12345678
5.    111111
6.    1234567890
7.    1234567
8.    password
9.    123123
10.    987654321
11.    qwertyuiop
12.    mynoob
13.    123321
14.    666666
15.    18atcskd2w
16.    7777777
17.    1q2w3e4r
18.    654321
19.    555555
20.    3rjs1la7qe
21.    google
22.    1q2w3e4r5t
23.    123qwe
24.    zxcvbnm
25.    1q2w3

Getty/New Statesman

Ukip needs Nigel Farage to stand in the Stoke by-election

By William Cash from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

Despite becoming a global political celebrity, the party's former leader has been waiting 25 years for this moment to win a Commons seat. 

When Ukip's 20 MEPs - back at school today in Strasbourg to elect a new EU President - wave (no fists please) at each other today at lunch across the various dining rooms of the EU Parliament, their main subject of interest will not be the eight candidates they will be voting for by secret ballot to replace bearded German socialist Martin Schulz.

For the record, these eight MEPs include four Italians (the favourite is centre-right 63-year-old Antonio Tajani, a former Italian air force pilot and EU insider regularly seen at the best tables of VIP watering holes like the Stanhope Hotel in Brussels), two Belgians, a Romanian and, yes, a Brit. Thats's 66-year-old Jean Lambert of the Green Party. But nobody in Ukip really cares. The party has the worst attendance and voting record of any political party in the EU - ranked 76 out 76.

Electing a new EU president today in Strasbourg is not nearly of so much concern to Ukip MEPs as the upcoming by-election in Stoke - not the least as quite a few of them (especially representing the Midlands) will be thinking of standing. The central Midlands seat of Stoke Central is a dream seat to have come up for Ukip just as Theresa May is setting out her 12-point "clean Brexit" plan stall.

Ladbrokes still have Labour 4/5 favourite with Ukip 9/4. It's worth a bet as the stakes are so much higher for Ukip if they lose. If they do, many will ask whether Ukip really can supplant Labour in 2020? 

With the prime minister making it clear today in her Lancaster House speech that her government want a hard Brexit, this presents a potential dilemma for Ukip. If the Tories deliver a clean Brexit with no membership of the single market, or EEA, then does the purpose of Ukip "holding the Tories' feet to the fire" over Brexit become less relevant? 

If Ukip alternatively wishes to re-invent itself as the new working class party of the north and Midlands, it will need to show that it can beat Labour - now at its lowest ebb under Corbyn - in key seats like Stoke. Ukip know this and are very good at their by-election ground game with veteran by-election campaign managers like Lisa Duffy as good as any strategist. In Stoke, expect a full expeditionary force of Ukip's colourful and Falstaff-like army of by-election activist troops - arriving by train, coach and foot - to campaign and out manoeuvre Corbyn's New Left Red Army. 

Stoke Central is probably the most important by-election for Ukip since Heywood and Middleton in 2014 which became a watershed moment for the party. Even Ukip was taken off-guard by the result. Without much cash and without campaigning with the full Ukip army zeal, they lost by just over 600 votes and got a recount. 

Looking back, Heywood was a pivotal moment in Ukip's short history. It was the moment the party realised that its future lay not so much in persuading Disgusted with Dave of Tunbridge Wells to vote for Nigel, but rather with disaffected Labour voters wanting something down about immigration that they saw was changing the very face and identity of their local towns, estates and cities. 

But can Ukip really win Stoke? Well, they really have to try as this is their best chance they might get for a while. Which means that the really interesting question being asked by Ukip MEPs today to Paul Nuttall is "Are you running?" The deadline for candidates on the party's Approved Candidates List to put themselves forward is 4pm on Wednesday 18 January.

So far Nuttall's official line - as told to the Daily Express - is that he is not ruling out standing. As a no-nonsense northerner himself (a working class boy from Bootle in Merseyside who played "junior", not professional, football for Tranmere Rovers), Nuttall would appear to be an ideal working class candidate to empathise with the voters of such a socially dispossessed pottery town.

As Chris Hanretty, a political scientist at East Anglia University wrote in the Guardian: "If Ukip doesn’t win, or doesn’t run Labour close, that calls into question its ability to win parliamentary seats...it would suggest that the referendum, far from being a staging post on the road to supplanting Labour, might signal Ukip's peak." 

Ouch. But Hanretty has a point: if Nuttall stands and fails to win in a working class Midlands seat where 69 per cent of the electorate voted to leave, it does raise issues about how much impact can make on the Westminster electoral landscape should there be a snap election in the next few months as a result of repeated constitutional challenges to Article 50 (the Supreme Court ruling is expected to be announced this week) and legal challenges such as the Article 127 challenge brought by the pro-EU pressure group British Infuence, now postponed until February.

This case revolves around the claim that Parliament must be consulted not just over the UK's exit as a EU member but also (and separately) its exit from the European Economic Area (EEA) – and by definition from the Single Market. In her speech today, Theresa May made it clear that the UK will be leaving the Single Market, so this challenge is unlikely to go away. All this political jousting and legal posturing is likely to make for quite a political circus when the Stoke by-election date is announced (usually within three months of an MP dying or standing down). Should Ukip not win this by-election prize fight - or give Labour a very bloody nose and lose by a few hundred votes as they did in Middleton and Heywood in 2014 -  it would certainly be damaging for Ukip. 

Not the least if the party's leader and chief general (an MEP commander for the north west) chooses to stand himself. But Nuttall is faced with a tricky dilemma. If he stands and loses, the idea that that UKIP is the new party of choice for working class former Labour voters in the North and and Midlands may not look so convincing. Yet if Nuttall doesn't stand and the party puts up another strong candidate who goes on to win like deputy chairman Suzanne Evans (born in the Midlands) or West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge (who has a strong personal following in the Black Country and industrial Midlands), then Nuttall's own position as leader of a party with two MPs could be frustrated. 

So it is going to be an interesting day for Ukip in Strasbourg that's for sure. Ukip is a strange party in that two of its most senior and high profile politicians - deputy chairman and Health spokesman Suzanne Evans and the respected former Ukip mayor candidate Peter Whittle (culture spokesman and excellent film critic for Standpoint) are not even MEPs although Whittle is proving to be an adept member of the London Assembly.  

If Ukip win in Stoke, and Nuttall's name is not on the ballot, this could have political ramifications. There is a significant difference in Westminster powers and patronage in having two MPs in Westminster rather than one (as currently with Douglas Carswell with whom Suzanne Evans worked closely with as a Ukip member of Vote Leave, which was pointedly not the party's official designated Leave camp). With two MPs, Ukip becomes a party as opposed to a one man political solo show. 

If the newly-elected MP were to be, say, Suzanne Evans - one of the party's star performers on Newsnight and Have I Got News For You - Nuttall's power base as leader (no longer an MEP in 2020 after we exit the EU) might be diluted by another senior party member becoming a star performing Commons MP. 

So there is much at stake both personally and party-wise for Nuttall. Should Ukip be defeated in Stoke Central by some margin, this would be picked up by Tory and Labour strategists as offering evidence that Labour might not be wiped out by so many seats under Corbyn should May go to the country in say March or April to settle the Brexit mandate. Polls have been saying that under Corbyn Labour could lose as many as 80-100 seats should Ukip prove (with Stoke) that the party is, indeed, the number one threat to traditional Labour vote in the north and midlands.

Whatever happens in Stoke, the Tories won't win. They will be watching to see how the working class vote splits. This is why it is so improbable that May will attempt to call an 'early election' this year, even if the polls continue to show she would win by a landslide. 

The truth is she can't realistically call an election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act even if she she wants to. The Act (one of the worst legacies of the Coalition govt which many MPs want repealed) requires two-thirds of MPs to vote for going to the country - something that not even the most suicidally inclined of Labour MPs will be prepared to do as they will be joining MEPs in being out of a job. 

In the event that Labour take the view that a political blood bath - with Ukip the likely winner in many seats like Stoke Central - is the only way to purge the party of Corbyn, then they will also have to swallow the fact that May (if pushed into an election by troublesome, unelected peers) is likely to spike her election wheel with a manifesto pledge to abolish most of the powers of the House of Lords, as well as booting many of the eldest, most pompous and idle. Such a mandate for radical reform of our largely unelected Lords would hardly be difficult to secure. More blood on the carpet. 

In the event that the Supreme Court rules this week that Article 50 must be signed off by both the Commons and the Lords, any Lib Dem and Labour pro-EU zealots will know that any attempted Kamikaze-style amendments (which could technically delay Parliamentary assent for up to thirteen months) will be met with punitive retribution from Downing Street. 

Ukip only lost in Stoke to Labour's Dr Tristram Hunt in 2015 by around 5,000 votes - largely thanks to disaffected working class voters feeling that their once proud industrial "pottery" city - once a Victorian symbol of industrial creativity and production - had become a symbol of a working class British city in decline. Faced with immigration, housing and other social issues, Stoke voters have felt for some time that the pro-EU metropolitan leaning Labour Party has abandoned them.

Not so Ukip, which is exactly why Nigel Farage chose to stage a major Brexit rally hosted by Grassroots Out (GO!) last April at Stoke's Victoria Hall urging the good people to vote to leave the European Union.

Addressing the packed hall, against his political opponent Tory Chris Grayling MP, and Labour's Kate Hoey (herself a Leaver), Farage drew applause from the Stoke crowd when he said: "This is not about left or right – this is about right or wrong." Farage then started up the audience of hundreds in a chant of "We want our country back." 

In other words, Nigel he knows perfectly well that Ukip can win Stoke. Which leads to the obvious question in Strasbourg today: "Are you going to stand Nigel?" 

Officially, Farage has ruled himself out saying he wants to focus on his international and speaking, broadcasting and advisory career. But as Farage said after picking up the leadership reins after they came loose following the resignation of Diane James: "I keep trying to escape ... and before I'm finally free they drag me back". 

The truth is that in his political heart, I suspect Nigel must be going through a dark night of his political soul over whether he should have stood for Stoke Central. Or still can? In so many ways, he has been waiting over 25 years for this moment. By the time the all-important Heywood and Middleton by-election result came on October 2014 (Ukip share of the vote up 36 per cent), Farage had already committed to standing for the south of England seat of Thanet South - his seventh election campaign to become an MP. Had Nigel stood in the Heywood by-election, he probably would have won. 

All his Ukip parliamentary election campaigns have been in the South, South-West or Home Counties, beginning with Eastleigh in Hampshire in 1994 when he won just 952 votes. But the interesting trend to note is that in his last two attempts to get into the Commons,  he has doubled his vote each time. In 2010 election, standing in Buckingham he won 8,410 votes (almost the same number as I won taking votes of Midland labour voters in North Warwickshire in 2015). In 2015, Nigel got 16,026 votes in South Thanet. 

My point is that had Nigel Farage stood for a solid Labour Northern or Midlands seat in 2015, he may well have won then. Yes, Nigel has said that he wants to get his life back after his extraordinary years as the "Mr Brexit" Ukip leader - apparently now the subject of a Warner Bros Bad Boys of Brexit comedy biopic. 

But as somebody who knows how much the pull of the green leather Commons bench - the true seat of western parliamentary democracy - means to Nigel, I sincerely hope he will re-consider standing for Stoke Central. Yes, he wants to earn money and become a global political superstar. But it will certainly be something to think about as he flies through the night to take up his front row seat in Washington on Friday's inauguration. 

And just think, after what Nigel did for Trump campaigning in Mississippi, how could Donald Trump possibly not campaign for his Brexit friend in Stoke? Now that really would be political theatre. 

Getty Images.

How A Series Of Unfortunate Events went from a children’s book to a postmodern masterpiece

By Anna Leszkiewicz from New Statesman Contents. Published on Jan 17, 2017.

On Friday the Thirteenth, 13 years since the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s series (of 13 books) was released, eight episodes dropped on Netflix. How did we get here?

I’m sorry to say that the article you are about to read is extremely unpleasant. It concerns an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children, sadly brought to public attention by a morally reprehensible (a phrase which here means, “having little or no regard for the traumatic effect their work might have on an unsuspecting audience”) streaming service. Yes, it is my sad duty to inform you that A Series of Unfortunate Events has finally come to Netflix, and the story of the Baudelaire orphans once again haunts our screens.

On Friday 13 January, 13 years since the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s series (of 13 books) hit cinemas, Netflix released eight episodes of their TV adaptation. Critics are hailing it as a success, with many commenting that it triumphs where the film adaptation failed. So how did we get here?

The early 2000s were dominated by a single book-to-film franchise: the Harry Potter series. Back then, it was less clear whether Harry Potter was a singular phenomenon or the beginning of an industry-changing trend, and movie studios were extremely keen to replicate the franchise’s financial success: lots of children’s books were wracked for their potential to become blockbuster hits. For Daniel Handler’s Lemony Snicket series, this started before his books even existed.

“The books were optioned for the movies before they were published,” he told IGN back in 2004. “I honestly didn’t think anything was going to happen with these books and I certainly didn’t think anything was going to happen in terms of a movie.”

So what happened with the 2004 Brad Silberling film? “I was really involved in the beginning and then I wasn’t involved by the time they were actually filming,” said Handler, regarding his removal from the scriptwriting process. As he revealed in rambling, Snicket-ish style, the development of the film went into “crisis” as the original director Barry Sonnenfeld either quit or was fired, “depending on who you ask”, and that afterwards, neither he nor the film company felt confident that he could continue as scriptwriter. In the end, Handler was “disappointed” that “very little of what I wrote is in the film.”

The film was, of course, intended to be the first of a franchise (the clue is really in the word “series”), but, like The Golden Compass and The Seeker, the story never gained enough momentum – or box office revenue – to continue.

Over a decade later, Netflix approached Handler about a new adaptation – one that he had more involvement in, and that would be more formally indebted to the structure of the book series. Handler told Variety, “Netflix approached me and said, ‘We think episodic television might be the better way to do this and we can structure it in the following way.’ That made a lot of sense to me, so that was attractive to me.”

They also got Sonnenfeld back as director, who is more blunt about their motiviations for returning to the project, telling the Los Angeles Times, “I think, for both Daniel and myself, in many ways it was profound and total revenge. It’s been a great finishing of unfinished business.” Then Handler had the idea of getting the actor Neil Patrick Harris on board: “I saw him, I don’t know, a few years ago, perform It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore as the opening of the Tonys. It’s such a beautiful tribute to musical theater while mocking it with some of the cheapest jokes imaginable. I thought, ‘This is exactly what we want to do. This would be perfect.’”

The episodic format allows for Unfortunate’s combination of predictability (the children invariably find an unsuitable guardian, before Count Olaf infiltrates their new home in disguise, dispensing with their carers and threatening to take them in under this new persona) and unpredictability (plot details hinge on deals on limes, statues who are actually people, misplaced commas and animals with misnomers). Sonnenfeld seems to instinctively understand the look and feel of the Unfortunate world. And Harris’s performance is chaotic and brilliant, by turns sincere and ironic, and the cast here (which includes Joan Cusack, Rhys Darby and Catherine O’Hara) tops the film (even if that did have Meryl Streep).

The finished product is far more faithful to the Snicket series, which is defined by Snicket’s dense voice. The books were thick with literary allusions (including but not limited to Dante, Shakespeare, Vi