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Preview: The Guardian newspaper: Comment & debate |

Opinion | The Guardian

Latest opinion, analysis and discussion from the Guardian. CP Scott: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred"

Published: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 09:01:44 GMT2017-07-23T09:01:44Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017

Exit Spicey, enter the Mooch: another day in Trump's tragicomic America | Richard Wolffe

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 11:39:56 GMT2017-07-22T11:39:56Z

As the laughable ‘Made in America’ week closed, the White House staged a farce to rival any of Sean Spicer’s press briefings. This was nightmare political theater

Sean “Spicey” Spicer, we knew ye all too well. Six months of shambolic press briefings, incoherent communications strategy and endless rumors of your demise. It was all too much for us, and ultimately for you too.

Related: Trump attacks Post over report Sessions discussed campaign with ambassador

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The Democrats' performance as an opposition party? Pathetic | Steven W Thrasher

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 10:00:35 GMT2017-07-22T10:00:35Z

Though Trump is historically unpopular for a president at this moment in his presidency, the opposition is not benefiting from this obvious opportunity

Six months into Donald Trump’s term, and Democratic politician’s ability to be an opposition party is, in a word, pathetic.

When the poll came out saying that “Democrats stand for nothing more than opposing” Trump, I thought to myself, ‘If only that were true!’” But they can’t even do that well. When House Democratic Caucus chairman Joe Crowley was asked by the Associated Press just what his party’s core message was, he “hesitated” and then said, “That message is being worked on.”

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Six months into America's nightmare, how likely is Trump's impeachment? | Richard Wolffe

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 10:00:15 GMT2017-07-21T10:00:15Z

There are only so many possible fates for the president: an early departure, defeat in his re-election bid or a second term. Which will it be?

Donald Trump Jr is apparently feeling “miserable” and wants “these four years to be over”, according to People magazine. We feel your pain, Don, we really do. At the six month stage of your father’s presidency, we all want these four years to be over. At least that’s one way President Trump has brought us closer together.

Since we have to suffer through this purgatory together, we may as well tally up the toll of the last 180 days – and look forward to how the next 1260 days will end. Like the long term inmates of Alcatraz, we know that escape is a highly risky proposition that is the figment of our shared despair and the subject of some wonderful myth-making.

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The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't it see that? | Thomas Frank

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 10:00:15 GMT2017-07-21T10:00:15Z

The news media needs to win its war with Trump, and urgently so. But the goal should be more than just reestablishing the old rules of legitimacy

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication.

Related: Journalists condemn Trump for stirring up 'disturbing' anti-media feeling

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Why I’ve never reported being sexually assaulted on public transport | Poppy Noor

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:43:41 GMT2017-07-21T17:43:41Z

A sense of disbelief has always stopped me calling the police. And many friends have reacted in the same way. But new figures show things might be changing

• Poppy Noor is a freelance writer

The first time I was sexually assaulted on public transport, I was 12 years old. Though at the time I wasn’t sure whether I had been. Like many young women, I’ve never felt too confident in calling out these events with certainty.

Related: Why we need to break the silence around rape and violence against women | Waqar Azmi

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Bernie Sanders on how to avoid war with North Korea

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 14:34:45 GMT2017-07-19T14:34:45Z

In this excerpt of The Bernie Sanders Show, former secretary of defense William J Perry and Sanders have a conversation about North Korea and nuclear weapons

This article is part of a new series, A Chat with Bernie Sanders. The series will run abridged transcripts of episodes from The Bernie Sanders Show. The show seeks to be a place where people can learn about the progressive agenda.

In this first article in the series, Bernie Sanders talks to the former secretary of defense William J Perry, who served in the Clinton administration. The subject of their chat? North Korea.

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Justine Damond's death is a tragedy – as every police killing in America is | Steven W Thrasher

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:08:25 GMT2017-07-19T12:08:25Z

Let’s honor Damond, not by elevating her as an exceptionally innocent victim, but by honoring her right alongside all the other people shot down by police

We must not look at the shooting death of a white woman by a black male police officer (both who seem to have been immigrants) and think to ourselves that somehow this tragedy is worse than the thousands of police shootings the nation has had to confront since Eric Garner was killed three years ago this week and Michael Brown was killed three years ago next month.

Police killings are not unusual in the US. They happen almost every day – on average about three times a day. Instances of people calling 911 to ask for help, only to have the cops show up and shoot them instead, are also not unusual. Just ask Charleena Lyles. (Actually, you can’t ... because police shot the pregnant woman dead when she called for help.)

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Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Let that sink in | Daniel José Camacho

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 13:50:32 GMT2017-07-19T13:50:32Z

The reasons for her low appeal need to be confronted by the Democratic establishment. And it would be wrong to pin it all on sexism

Donald Trump is one of the least popular politicians in the history of the United States. Yet, Trump is still more popular than Hillary Clinton. Let that sink in.

According to the latest Bloomberg National Poll, Trump has a net favorability of 41% whereas Clinton has a net favorability of 39%. If Democrats are to escape the political wilderness, they will have to leave Clinton and her brand of politics in the woods.

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The biggest threat to journalism isn't Trump. It's declining revenues | Ross Barkan

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:17:50 GMT2017-07-17T15:17:50Z

Financial woes pose a far greater threat to the news industry than anything Trump says or does

Amid the litany of laments over how Donald Trump’s nearly-there or full-blown fascist White House is ending the free press as we know it, the Baltimore City Paper quietly announced this month it was going to shut down. Well, not so quietly if you live in the area and care about a paper with a 40-year legacy of investigative reporting and arts coverage. For the city of Baltimore, it’s a devastating loss.

And it’s a reminder of the existential reckoning journalism faces, one that is not orange-haired and shrill, whining “fake news” as often as it breathes. Financial woes pose a far greater threat to the news industry than anything Trump says or does. Journalism today is dying because no one has really figured out how to financially support it in a winner-take-all capitalist system.

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America steals votes from felons. Until it stops, our democracy will be weakened | Russ Feingold

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 10:00:19 GMT2017-07-18T10:00:19Z

Felony disenfranchisement bars roughly 6.1 million citizens from voting – one in 13 black Americans. Trump’s ‘electoral integrity’ commission is silent

In the middle of the hot summer, citizens will gather this week in Florida to champion a ballot initiative to end the state’s permanent felony disenfranchisement.

As we face the daily jaw-dropping revelations about the Trump campaign and administration’s actions, keeping our focus on restoring legitimacy to our elections and our democracy has never been more important, and ending the historic wrong of felony disenfranchisement absolutely must be part of our agenda.

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Turkey’s democracy is dying – but this brutal crackdown can’t last | Ersin Şenel

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:30:15 GMT2017-07-19T08:30:15Z

Any lingering hopes that Erdoğan would return to the path of democracy have wilted. Instead he has solidified his power to push his political agenda

• Ersin Şenel is an economist and a political scientist based in Istanbul, Turkey

A year after Turkey’s failed coup attempt, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s regime faces a dilemma: first it fears any kind of street-based movement. Erdoğan’s harsh response to the Gezi Park protests in 2013 or the protests that were brutally quashed in the Kurdish cities of south-east Turkey last year are examples. Yet with the president’s power built on a friend-or-foe dichotomy, he also needs a street-based legitimacy. Witness the weekend ceremonies marking the anniversary of 15 July in which he whipped up public support for punishing coup plotters with the death penalty and talked about “ripping the heads” off so-called traitors.

And as a result of disabling parliamentary opposition and governing by decree under a continuous state of emergency it is not possible for him to prevent oppositional street-based movements from erupting. Last week’s justice march led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, chair of the opposition Republicans People’s party, (CHP) which brought at least 1.5 million people for a final rally proves this point.

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American healthcare is at a crossroads. It's time to talk universal healthcare | Farzon A Nahvi

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 10:00:19 GMT2017-07-18T10:00:19Z

The Republican party encourages us to be smart healthcare shoppers. But it’s becoming clear that the best deal, in fact, is a universal healthcare system

The single most disheartening line I tell my patients every day is: “Let’s focus on your health, that is the only thing that is important right now.”

Physicians across the country repeat this line almost verbatim whenever a patient expresses any concern about cost. It helps reaffirm our purpose – we went into medicine to save lives, not manage finances – but mostly, it is a way to deflect our discomfort with the truth: we have no idea, and no way of finding out, how much your blood test, CT scan or surgical procedure will cost you.

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Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism | Timothy Snyder

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 12:42:27 GMT2017-07-15T12:42:27Z

If Republicans do not wish to repeat the mistakes of the German conservatives of the 1930s, they had better find their courage – and their conservatism – fast

  • Timothy Snyder is the Levin professor of history at Yale University

In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of politics: a new right to replace an old one.

Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. The conservatism of the 18th century was a thoughtful response to revolutionaries who believed that human nature was a scientific problem. Edmund Burke answered that life is not only a matter of adaptations to the environment, but also of the knowledge we inherit from culture. Politics must respect what was and is as well as what might be.
The conservative idea of truth was a rich one.

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War with Iran is back on the table – thanks to Trump | Trita Parsi

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 14:40:14 GMT2017-07-17T14:40:14Z

Obama knew the only way to avoid conflict was to agree on the nuclear deal. Now its future is in question

On the two-year anniversary of the historic Iran nuclear deal, Washington is abuzz with renewed calls for confrontation with Tehran. President Donald Trump should roll back Iranian influence through pressure and sanctions, the argument goes. Some even suggest pressure can lead to regime change, failing to see the contradiction in warning about Iran’s rising influence while predicting Tehran’s downfall if only a few more sanctions are imposed.

This near-mythological potency of sanctions is rooted in Washington’s narrative on why the nuclear deal came to fruition in the first place: sanctions and pressure brought the Iranians to their knees, forcing them to negotiate their way out of their nuclear rabbit hole.

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Political turmoil has left me with nothing to aim at | Stewart Lee

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 09:00:17 GMT2017-07-16T09:00:17Z

Satirists are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, but all I see everywhere are victims and losers

Last summer I wrote a comedy drama script, currently “in development with a major broadcaster”, concerning a charming, confident, clever and machiavellian politician. Named Horace Thompson, he manipulates popular culture to consolidate support for a controversial referendum he narrowly won, intending to further his own self-interest. And he was in the Bullingdon Club. And he lives in Islington.

(I don’t know where I got the brilliant idea for this character from. Sometimes I think I am a genius, or some kind of unwitting God, forcibly exiled to Earth, his memory of his own divinity erased by jealous members of his former pantheon.)

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What if all students spent a year working the land before university? | Hugh Warwick

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 07:00:44 GMT2017-07-17T07:00:44Z

A year of ‘eco-conscription’ between school and university would renew the bonds between people and the land

• Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer

School leads inexorably to further education for the majority. But in the rush to qualify, to meet the tick-box requirements of curriculum assessors, there is a loss of time to think. After a 14-year slog young people are in need of a break to ask searching questions. What do they want to do with their lives? Do they want to saddle up a mountain of debt to take out into the “real world”?

What if there was to be a pause. A year in which you have the chance to earn your tuition fees while at the same time learning more about yourself. A time to explore a life outdoors. A time to grow food, develop community and repair a damaged environment. A truly productive gap year.

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IVF is painful. Will I leave my final embryo frozen forever? | Celyn Harding-Jones

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 13:38:29 GMT2017-07-15T13:38:29Z

The embryo in the freezer is no longer just an embryo, it’s the sibling to my daughter. But I’m not sure I am ready to go through a pregnancy all over again

My daughter’s unborn sibling is in the freezer, to be made into a real human being at a later date, should we decide to do another round of IVF. The fertility clinic contacted me recently to remind me that it’s still there. As if I had forgotten.

We lost our very first child as I went into early labour at 12 weeks. What followed were 16 months of infertility compounded by grief, convincing me I was a failed mother.

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I grew up on food stamps. I'll never forget the sneering looks | Jessika Bohon

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 11:29:38 GMT2017-07-12T11:29:38Z

A cashier berated my mom for buying cake mix for my brother’s fourth birthday. But people eager to judge ignored the reasons for our plight

Poor people are reviled in America. I learned this lesson very early on as a child on food stamps in the grocery store. Other shoppers would search for a wedding ring on my mom’s hand and mutter “trailer trash” as we walked by when they didn’t find one. People behind us in the cashier line would swing their buggies around to another line, loudly complaining because my mom didn’t hand over her vouchers quickly enough.

Junk food aroused particular ire, even though the US Department of Agriculture found no food consumption differences between food-stamp shoppers and non-food-stamp grocery shoppers.

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Why Trump's travel ban hits women the hardest | Michelle Chen

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 15:03:48 GMT2017-07-16T15:03:48Z

On top of alienating an entire religious community, Trump’s ban on future refugee admissions deepens the endemic gender injustice of warfare

Trump’s “Muslim ban” is a frontal assault on many universal human rights principles. But the latest temporary reinstatement of the order’s 120-day refugee ban – pending an anticipated October Supreme Court ruling – is already quietly undermining the most fundamental universal humanitarian rule: it puts women and children … last.

The Executive Order is being challenged primarily for discriminating against citizens of six Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – with an arbitrary 90-day travel ban (with arbitrary, potentially illegal exceptions for those with “bona fide relationships” to US residents.)

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Be wary: Trump and Putin could yet bring democracy to a halt | Joseph O’Neill

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 07:00:00 GMT2017-07-15T07:00:00Z

If Russia is allowed to wield the same influence in the midterm elections as the presidential campaign, US politics may reach a point of no return

• Joseph O’Neill is a novelist

In November next year the United States will hold its midterm elections. Every seat in the House of Representatives, and a third of the seats in the Senate, will be up for grabs. For the Democratic party the elections represent a desperately anticipated opportunity to break the Republicans’ complete control of the federal government. If historical midterm trends and the voting patterns of recent special elections hold up, Democrats have a fighting chance of winning back the House, and an outside shot at the Senate.

Related: Donald Trump Jr: from childhood struggles to global notoriety

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Why is Betsy DeVos enabling rape deniers? | Jessica Valenti

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 13:00:56 GMT2017-07-14T13:00:56Z

Trump’s education secretary will talk with dangerous anti-feminist groups that claim rape statistics are overblown and that women regularly lie about assault

On Thursday, education secretary Betsy DeVos carried on in the grand American tradition of treating rape survivors like garbage, meeting with accused rapists and organizations that publish photos of women they claim are “false victims”. Just another day in the era of Trump, where disdain for women and their rights trickles down from the “pussy-grabbing” president to all corners of his administration.

As part of her effort to examine the Obama administration’s widely lauded programs on campus rape, DeVos is meeting with survivors of sexual assault and organizations like the National Women’s Law Center and End Rape on Campus.

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Here's a reality check: this Trump Jr storm will not lead to impeachment | Trevor Timm

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 13:05:48 GMT2017-07-14T13:05:48Z

Republicans make excuses for Trump’s behavior, but continue to back him. All this anti-Trump energy would be better spent organizing for the coming election

  • Trevor Timm is a Guardian US columnist

The latest New York Times blockbuster revealing the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, knowingly accepting a meeting in 2016 with a Russian lawyer in the hope of getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton is making waves across Washington DC. But if people think that this latest story is definitely going to lead to criminal charges against Trump Jr, or force the president from office, it’s time for a reality check.

The journalism displayed by the Times and the Washington Post pushing the Trump-Russia story forward has unquestionably been laudable, but the real question is where does this leave the Trump administration.

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Black travelers often bring home an unwanted souvenir: racist abuse | Tamara Walker

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 13:57:55 GMT2017-07-14T13:57:55Z

Because of my experiences as a black traveller, I can’t help wonder whether the killing of a black American, Bakari Henderson, in Greece was linked to race

Last week, 22-year old American college graduate Bakari Henderson was beaten to death by a group of men while vacationing in Greece. Police say the confrontation erupted over his taking a selfie with a female bartender, but his friends say the young man was “minding his own business” before the group attacked him. It was heartbreaking to read how a young man apparently went from enjoying a drink with friends in a bar to having been senselessly killed.

As a black woman and avid traveler who has frequently faced discrimination abroad, the fact that Henderson was black made his story hit close to home. I began to wonder if the attack was racially motivated.

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The world we have bequeathed to our children feels darker than the one I knew | Julianne Schultz

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 22:00:35 GMT2017-07-14T22:00:35Z

The age-old intergenerational promise that children will have a better life than their parents has been broken. As a mother of millennials, I feel this personally

  • Julianne Schultz is the founding editor of Griffith Review

More than 700 years ago a young poet commenced a journey that would define the human condition. Dante’s The Divine Comedy continues to resonate – arguably with new urgency in what many feel are dark times. His journey through hell commenced on the night before Good Friday in 1300 AD, when he was thirty-five, halfway through his allotted three score and 10 years – the same age as the oldest millennials today.

In Inferno, Dante passes through the nine circles of hell, confronting a pantheon of characters who are suffering for their lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence and fraud – before reaching the lowest circle, reserved for traitors. Contrary to the usual images of hell, the ninth circle is a frozen lake. In Dante’s reckoning, those responsible for destroying love and trust, the special bonds that enable people to co-operate, were not even worthy of hell’s fire.

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Choosing a handyman is now like online dating – all photos and hot reviews | Emma Brockes

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 17:10:14 GMT2017-07-13T17:10:14Z

I just needed someone to put up my shelves. But it seems to me the ratings on the Taskrabbit site could be based on all sorts of inappropriate thoughts

• Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

I needed some Ikea bookshelves assembled and brought up the homepage for TaskRabbit, a service I’ve heard good things about, overlooking all the bad things one hears about that type of business in general. Unlike Uber, however, or some of the other gig economy apps that control their “independent contractors” while denying them basic employment rights, the ethos of TaskRabbit seems fairly straightforward: customers type in what they need, scroll through the directory until they find someone with the relevant skills, and make a booking online. It’s like Yelp without all the bad spelling.

Related: 'Prejudices play out in the ratings we give' – the myth of digital equality

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The Republican healthcare plan has a formidable foe: economics | Joe McLean

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 12:54:46 GMT2017-07-11T12:54:46Z

The Republicans can’t craft a workable plan on healthcare because they ignore at least four immutable economic principles

Having sworn for six years to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, Senate Republicans, unable to pass a plan before their summer recess, recently got their first taste of how the folks at home feel about it. While many ducked those messy town-hall meetings, they couldn’t avoid hearing the angry voices during Fourth of July parades, picnics and fireworks.

Why are regular people so angry, even in deep red states? Because voters instinctively understand the irreconcilable conflict between political rhetoric, conservative dogma and the hard reality of economics.

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Doomsday narratives about climate change don't work. But here's what does | Victoria Herrmann

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 10:00:21 GMT2017-07-12T10:00:21Z

Feeling hopeless about a situation is cognitively associated with inaction. Instead of being defeatist, look to climate change heroes who are leading the way

The title of David Wallace-Wells’ recent essay in New York magazine is catchy, if not uncomfortable. “The Uninhabitable Earth: Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreck – sooner than you think.”

The article asks us to peer beyond scientific reticence into a doomsday future. The accounts of mass heat deaths in cities and praying for cornfields in the tundra is disturbing, but they’re familiar. It’s the same frame for how we talk about a much more immediate climate change disaster – US communities at risk to sea level rise today.

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Trump Jr's message to Russian operatives? I'm open for business | Richard Wolffe

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 21:48:38 GMT2017-07-10T21:48:38Z

Now we know: if there’s a Russian stranger offering up dirt on his political opponents, Trump Jr will happily sit down with them

Donald Trump Jr is a curious beast. Of all the hotheads around his hotheaded father, the oldest son leads the charge in confirming the president’s very worst instincts.

If there’s a public spat with the media, you can find Trump Jr throwing his own punches. If there’s an ultra-rightwing gadfly (inside the White House or just on the internet), you can find Trump Jr heartily endorsing their comments.

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Fox News might buy Donald Trump Jr's spin. But Republicans have no excuse | Walter Shapiro

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 04:12:45 GMT2017-07-12T04:12:45Z

Trump Jr probably believes the talking points he trotted out in his interview with Sean Hannity. The Republican party, however, cannot claim similar ignorance

Maybe they should just change the name of Trump Tower to Russia House. And place a plaque in the room on the 25th floor where the Axis of Moral Blindness of Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met in June 2016 with a Russian attorney in hopes of getting the Kremlin’s help in bringing down Hillary Clinton.

What was stunning about Trump Jr’s Fox News interview with Sean Hannity Tuesday night was the fast-talking self-confidence of the president’s oldest son. It was as if Trump Jr had entered the No Embarrassment Zone.

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Donald Trump – not his son – is the real protagonist of the Russia drama | Jill Abramson

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:40:17 GMT2017-07-13T16:40:17Z

The story around Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner are titillating. But the real issue is: what did the president know and when did he know it?

In the unfolding Russia scandal enveloping the White House, we are so fascinated – and entertained – by the supporting cast that we are losing sight of the man in the starring role, Donald J Trump.

This week, thanks to great reporting by The New York Times, we’ve been captivated by some new characters: Donald Trump Jr, a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rob Goldstone, the rotund music promoter who was their go-between.

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Donald Trump Jr offers the closest thing to a smoking gun | Lawrence Douglas

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 07:00:17 GMT2017-07-12T07:00:17Z

Let us assume that Donald Jr is telling the truth about not receiving any ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton. He still remains a hapless conspirator to receive stolen goods

Imagine a criminal accused of conspiring to receive stolen property. At trial, the accused testifies that he hired a big truck to carry away the goods, but when he arrived at the stash all he found was worthless garbage. I might feel for the hapless criminal, but his guilt would not be in question. This is much the situation that Donald Trump Jr finds himself in – by his own admission.

Consider the time logs. It is 10.36am on 3 June 2016. Donald Jr has just received an email from Rob Goldstone, a trusted Trump intermediary, expressing Russia’s willingness to provide the Trump campaign “very high level” “official documents” against Hillary Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

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Anger is simmering worldwide – and Trump and Putin just fan the flames | Paul Mason

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 16:32:39 GMT2017-07-10T16:32:39Z

Hamburg’s riots showed that discontent is widespread. For the G20’s trouble-stirrers, the answer is to direct it towards international institutions, rival nations and minorities

The G20 riots were a reminder to us that Germany does the whole police state thing very well: military vehicles, water cannon, pepper spray and a baton in the face of anybody standing in their way. To a British political class nervy about both mobs and Marxism since the Grenfell disaster, the sight of Hamburg in flames cannot have been reassuring. Because what the Hamburg troubles showed is that the anger simmering across western societies has become systemic.

Events so dramatic that even unpoliticised people notice them are punctuating the present: Brexit, Donald Trump’s victory, the riotous ejection of Milo Yiannopoulos from Berkeley; terrorist attacks in France, Germany and the UK; the Front National’s surge and Emmanuel Macron’s tsunami; Theresa May’s debacle ... history is thumping stability.

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Radiohead are wrong to play in Israel. Here’s why | Dave Randall

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 15:31:36 GMT2017-07-11T15:31:36Z

This Tel Aviv gig will help the Israeli government’s ‘business as usual’ propaganda effort and alienate thousands of fans worldwide by ignoring the pleas of Palestinians

• Dave Randall is a former guitarist for the band Faithless

Next Wednesday (19 July), Radiohead will step on stage in Tel Aviv in knowing and deliberate contravention of the boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society and adhered to by leading cultural figures. In so doing, they will lose the respect of thousands of music fans across the region and around the world. Lead singer Thom Yorke’s arrogant response to protests against the decision revealed just how out of touch he is on this issue. In an interview in Rolling Stone magazine, he claimed the protests were “an extraordinary waste of energy”, adding that the situation was particularly upsetting for guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who has “fans on both sides” and an Israeli wife: “All these people stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, ‘You don’t know anything about it!’ Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny.” An acknowledgement that offence might be caused to Palestinians – whose calls Radiohead have decided to ignore – was conspicuously absent from Yorke’s rant.

Related: Emboldened by Trump, Israel pushes on with East Jerusalem settlement plans

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Why join the National Rifle Association? To defeat liberal enemies, apparently | Francine Prose

Sat, 01 Jul 2017 11:51:18 GMT2017-07-01T11:51:18Z

A virulent recruitment video by the NRA suggests joining the group is the best defense against political opponents

Defeating our enemies. That’s one reason to join the National Rifle Association, according to a recruitment video that is going viral this week. But the enemies in question aren’t Isis or the perpetrators of school shootings. No – they are Barack Obama, Hollywood award shows, school teachers and liberals with the temerity to criticize our government.

In the video, Dana Loesch – a conservative radio and television talk-show host and NRA spokesperson – glowers into the camera and in a strident tone, nearly quivering with righteous anger, explains why it is so important to join the NRA. As images of tranquil American towns, the White House, angry political protesters and stalwart policemen flash by us, Loesch intones:

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Tell Donald Trump: the Paris climate deal is very good for America | Joseph Stiglitz

Mon, 03 Jul 2017 08:37:57 GMT2017-07-03T08:37:57Z

Trump argues the treaty is unfair to the US but it is America that continues to impose an unfair burden on others

Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, the United States took another major step toward establishing itself as a rogue state on 1 June, when it withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. For years, Trump has indulged the strange conspiracy theory that, as he put it in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” But this was not the reason Trump advanced for withdrawing the US from the Paris accord. Rather, the agreement, he alleged, was bad for the US and implicitly unfair to it.

While fairness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, Trump’s claim is difficult to justify. On the contrary, the Paris accord is very good for America, and it is the US that continues to impose an unfair burden on others.

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Donald Trump is 'ill-mannered'. But this is less of a problem than we think | Ross Barkan

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 10:00:40 GMT2017-07-06T10:00:40Z

The handwringing over Trump besmirching the ‘dignity’ of the White House tells us that style, in the minds of pundits, will always win out over substance

“Every day, Trump wakes up and erodes the dignity of the presidency a little more,” David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, wrote recently, speaking for the not-insignificant faction of the country horrified by a president who tweets hatefully about Mika Brzezinski and shares a video of himself body-slamming a man with a CNN logo for a head.

The hallowed office of the presidency, dignity-drenched for a couple of centuries, is now held captive by a reality show star, so uncouth and erratic. “When,” Remnick wonders, “has any politician done so much, so quickly, to demean his office, his country, and even the language in which he attempts to speak?”

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The biggest threat to American democracy isn't Trump's uncivil speech | Lawrence Douglas

Tue, 04 Jul 2017 11:22:01 GMT2017-07-04T11:22:01Z

A democracy can tolerate some uncivil speech. But it cannot withstand the contempt directed against institutions that keep government honest

Our constitution does not demand that our speech be civil. The constitution protects uncivil speech – hate speech, even. But it does so not because our democracy approves of such speech, but because we believe that truth will expose lies and the evil of government censorship is greater than the perils posed by untoward speakers.

But what happens when the source of uncivil speech is not some fringe hate group, but the occupant of the Oval Office? And what happens when the lies target the very organs designed to ferret them out? We have never faced such questions before. Which explains why, on the 241st anniversary of our independence, American democracy finds itself in peril.

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Don't call it the Trump administration. Call it a regime | Carol Anderson

Mon, 03 Jul 2017 11:39:37 GMT2017-07-03T11:39:37Z

Trump has no desire or intention to govern. He wants to rule and make his word our command

  • Carol Anderson is the author of White Rage

Trump tweeted another string of bullying, misogynistic, anti-press rants and signaled once again the stark differences between a presidential administration and a White House regime. In the wake of his caustic blasts at TV personalities Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, and then his physical assault on a CNN logo, Republican congressional representatives begged him to start acting presidential.

But the difference between an administration and a regime is not just cloaking coarseness and crudity with a veneer of civility. Lyndon Johnson, for example, was notoriously crude. Yet he and other presidents, even the incompetent ones such as Warren G Harding, did something else too. They actually had administrations.

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Donald Trump did more than 'wrestle' CNN in a video. He attacked democracy | Robert Reich

Mon, 03 Jul 2017 08:42:01 GMT2017-07-03T08:42:01Z

Will news organizations and professionals be intimidated by the president? Probably not, at least not at this point – but we may be on a slippery path

On Sunday morning, Donald Trump seemed to promote violence against CNN. He tweeted an old video clip of him performing in a WWE professional wrestling match, with a CNN logo superimposed on the head of his opponent.

In it, Trump is shown slamming the CNN avatar to the ground and pounding him with punches and elbows to the head. Trump added the hastags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN, for “fraud news network”.

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American healthcare is in crisis. We must fight for the real needs of the people | Bernie Sanders and James Clyburn

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 15:44:06 GMT2017-06-30T15:44:06Z

Community health centers serve roughly 25 million people. We believe our bill will double that number, write senators Bernie Sanders and James E Clyburn

Today in America, we have a major crisis in primary healthcare. Tens of millions of people, including many with health insurance, are unable to access a doctor or a dentist when they need one. The result is that patients suffer unnecessarily and become sicker than they should. Some end up at expensive emergency rooms and some in hospitals. Our healthcare system wastes billions of dollars on expensive care that could be avoided with a strong primary care system.

Related: 'Every day until we know it's dead': how people are fighting GOP healthcare bill

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I grew up with the American flag. Now, the stars and stripes seem hostile | Chase Quinn

Tue, 04 Jul 2017 05:00:32 GMT2017-07-04T05:00:32Z

The day after Trump won, I was greeted by the red bloom of several freshly strung American flags. It was the first time the flag made me feel afraid

  • Chase Quinn is a writer based in Charleston, South Carolina

The morning after the US election, drowsy from a late night watching the votes come in, still in a state of disbelief at the results, I carefully laced up my red Nikes for a run and considered my options.

Since moving from New York City to a predominantly white suburb of North Charleston, South Carolina, my daily exercise routine had become an unexpected source of anxiety. This was, after all, the same city where Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, had been shot in the back in broad daylight after a routine traffic stop only a few months prior.

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The Observer view on Poland’s assault on law and the judiciary | Observer editorial

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 23:05:01 GMT2017-07-22T23:05:01Z

The Polish government has gifted power over the supreme court to politicians. The EU must get tough and withhold funding

The decision by Poland’s upper house of parliament to give the government de facto control of the country’s highest court is a serious mistake with negative implications for Europe. The legislation compromises judicial independence and undermines confidence in the rule of law free from political interference. It deals a heavy blow to Poland’s far from robust post-communist democratic institutions. It is a staggering act of defiance of the EU, which explicitly opposed the measure. And it explodes the too-comfortable illusion, fashionable since Emmanuel Macron won France’s presidential election, that the dark forces of intolerant European nationalism and populism are in retreat.

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The Guardian view on historical fiction: reimagining, not reproducing | Editorial

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 17:16:32 GMT2017-07-21T17:16:32Z

A once-disparaged genre has found new life thanks to Hilary Mantel and others. But what do we want from it?

In the first of her recent Reith lectures, Hilary Mantel spoke of the “cultural cringe” of being a historical novelist when she started out in the 1970s, a time when historical fiction meant historical romance and wasn’t respectable or respected. How things have changed – and in no little part due to Mantel’s own magisterial reimagining of the life of the self-made Tudor courtier Thomas Cromwell, which set its cap at the higher reaches of literary fiction and was rewarded with two Man Booker prize wins.

This year’s Booker longlist, to be announced next week, will certainly include historical titles, judging from recent years. Contenders include Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, already Costa Book of the Year and winner of the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction. This month we learned that Zadie Smith is to write her first historical novel, reportedly inspired by the exploits of a 19th-century highwayman, which led to a street in her old stamping grounds of north-west London being named Shoot-up Hill.

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The Guardian view on Mosul: the price of revenge | Editorial

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:33:03 GMT2017-07-20T18:33:03Z

There is growing evidence of abuses against suspected Islamic State members and their families. They will cost Iraq dear

In the days since Baghdad announced the liberation of Mosul, Islamic State’s last urban stronghold in Iraq, evidence has mounted of grotesque human rights abuses and revenge attacks against suspected members of the group. It includes a video apparently showing Iraqi troops killing an unarmed fighter by throwing him from a high ledge and accounts of brutal violence against not only alleged combatants but also their families. Earlier footage appeared to show members of a special forces unit torturing and executing civilians. A spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said last week that the government would announce action against those soldiers – but not yet, because it would “interfere with the current congratulatory victory messages”.

Even seen on a page or screen thousands of miles away, these tales and images horrify. They will be remembered long after the pictures of Iraqi soldiers dancing in celebration. Welcome as it is, the military victory is a very partial kind of success. The caliphate that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed from Mosul three years ago has crumbled; the battle for its de facto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, is well advanced. But the conflict is far from over. The group still controls considerable territory and – more importantly – the assumption that it would return to its insurgent roots as it loses ground is proving correct. It mounts attacks in the cities it has lost. Foreign combatants are likely to pose a danger further afield, increasing the terrorist threat as they return home.

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The Guardian view on BBC pay transparency: right thing, wrong reason | Editorial

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 17:17:48 GMT2017-07-19T17:17:48Z

The gender pay gap exposed by revealing talent pay at Britain’s national broadcaster is shocking. But it can also be turned to advantage

Advocates of pay transparency believe it has the power to transform a company’s internal dynamics. They say it can incentivise workers and build a sense of fairness and trust. Its critics believe that it can lead to unnecessary or unhelpful rancour. The BBC finds itself forced to conduct a very public transparency experiment, by critics in government and rivals in the media whose concerns have nothing to do with corporation morale or governance and everything to do with trying to cow an institution that challenges their worldview and sometimes their bottom line.

Forcing the BBC to publish details of what it pays its highest-earning stars falls into the category of things that are utterly fascinating to the public (why is Casualty’s Derek Thompson the highest-paid actor?) without contributing very much at all to the public interest. To most people, even the lowest-paid BBC star earns a sum they can only dream of. The ex-miner who called the Jeremy Vine programme this morning to ask if he thought he was worth the £700,000 that his listeners now know he’s paid raised the most fundamental question there is about salaries: how do you judge the value of someone’s work?

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The Guardian view on the future of crime: it will be online | Editorial

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 16:19:11 GMT2017-07-19T16:19:11Z

The dangers of machine intelligence will grow as it spreads. We need to prepare now

When software gets smarter, the first effect is to empower the already powerful. The fantastic powers available now to Google and Facebook, which are now in practice the publishers of most of what appears on the public internet, is one example. More sinister is the power of nation states to spy on us, to manipulate their own citizens, and to disrupt the workings of their enemies. But these advantages cannot last. Soon they have to be reinforced by law, and ultimately force, as the techniques behind them spread and hardware grows cheaper and more plentiful.

The speed of technological progress, and the ease with which ideas can now spread, mean that few techniques can long remain the preserve of large firms or entities. Every advance in power and convenience available to the ordinary consumer will soon be available to criminals too. Illegal commerce, whether in drugs, forged documents, stolen credit cards or emails, is nearly as slick and well organised as the legal sort. So are the criminal world’s labour exchanges: hiring someone to hack a website, or to boost your Twitter account with fake followers, is easily done. So is renting a botnet of suborned devices to knock an enemy’s website off the net. Last year large chunks of the consumer internet in the US were knocked out for hours, apparently by an assault launched from subverted home security cameras.

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The Guardian view on Poland and Hungary: heading the wrong way | Editorial

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 19:12:40 GMT2017-07-18T19:12:40Z

Poland’s attack on the judiciary and Hungary’s campaign against George Soros are part of their dangerous, illiberal course

Poland is “on the road to autocracy”, the outgoing president of its highest constitutional court warned late last year. Since then it has travelled an alarming distance: thousands of Poles protested at the weekend against changes that undermine the rule of law by handing politicians control of who is in the judiciary and what they do. The response of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) has been to step on the accelerator – its proposals to terminate the appointments of all supreme court judges, unless the executive allows them to stay on, could be passed within days or even hours. The court is not only the final tribunal of appeal for all criminal and civil cases: it rules on the validity of elections, approves the financial reports of political parties and adjudicates on disciplinary proceedings against judges. This comes on top of laws passed last week giving parliament control over the previously autonomous body appointing judges, and ministers the power to appoint the president of each court, who decides which judge will sit in each case. The government had already manoeuvred its way to control of the constitutional court.

These developments are probably the most frightening manifestation yet of the rightwing, nationalist, populist illiberalism that has taken root in Poland and Hungary (predictably, PiS has portrayed the judiciary as corrupt and in service to the elite). The international community has struggled to respond – and some have encouraged and abetted such tendencies. Donald Trump’s visit to Warsaw, and his speech playing to the xenophobic tendencies of his host, sent all the wrong signals; many believe it encouraged the government to push on quickly with the judicial changes.

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The Guardian view on the Time Lord: Nurse Who? | Editorial

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 18:24:05 GMT2017-07-17T18:24:05Z

The response to Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor has been beyond parody. But it will take more than a female Time Lord to change the world

One of the purposes of fiction, on the page or in film or TV, is to reflect life back at us. When it is good, it can even influence the way the reader or viewer experiences it: many will be familiar with the experience of the voice of a novel or (less often) a film’s protagonist sounding in their head as they live their different lives. The BBC has always recognised the power of character as more than a vehicle for a plot, and assumed that part of its remit can be the responsibility for portraying different experiences of life in a way that is both absorbing and in some way serving the national interest.

That was part of the reason for inventing Doctor Who: while a generation earlier, the Archers gently led an innately conservative section of the country towards agricultural innovation, in the 60s the Doctor and his Tardis were meant to inspire a generation of young scientists to fan the heat of the technological revolution. Old, male scientists, that is, with young women as kind of lab technicians in support. (It was a world where Delia Derbyshire, the sound engineer who created the series’ first electronic signature tune, was denied royalties.)

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The Guardian view on politics and the Proms: worth listening | Editorial

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 18:16:55 GMT2017-07-17T18:16:55Z

The Proms have attracted political argument in the past. Brexit has fuelled the process

On the first night of the 2017 BBC Proms, the pianist Igor Levit pointedly performed a transcription of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, aka the European anthem, as an encore, while sporting a European flag. On the third night, the conductor Daniel Barenboim made a barely disguised anti-Brexit speech from the podium voicing “human concern” about the rise of isolationism and nationalism. Britain’s most important classical music festival seems to be doing a Glastonbury. What’s going on?

Before the tabloids seize on such events to rail again against the BBC and global liberal luvviedom, remember two things. First, the Proms are no stranger to political controversy. Most of that centres on the jingoism of the Last Night, but politically charged concerts have included a Soviet orchestra playing on the night that Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968 and, more recently, protests against the Israel Philharmonic. Second, political gestures at classical and even rock festivals are still an exception. So the fact that these things are happening now may be telling us something worth thinking about.

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The Guardian view on post-coup Turkey: don’t rebuild on vengeance | Editorial

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 18:59:22 GMT2017-07-16T18:59:22Z

President Erdoğan is a strongman who is tightening his grip on power and using punishment as an occasion for a new constitutional settlement

“We remain committed to justice,” wrote the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in this newspaper in an article marking the first anniversary of the 15 July coup attempt to remove the government of his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP). However, the question is what sort of justice President Erdoğan wants his country to commit to? In a speech this weekend to thousands of supporters, he seemed to be advocating capital punishment as a form of judicial retribution – saying that if parliament voted for a bill bringing back the death penalty, he would approve cutting off traitors’ heads. Such a move would set Turkey back in terms of both foreign and domestic politics.

Reinstating the death penalty would end Turkey’s bid for accession to the European Union, talks over which have stalled thanks mainly to continental intransigence. Capital punishment is not only barbaric and immoral but its deterrent effect unproven. It gives the state the right to eliminate anyone whom it finds dangerous even when there are other ways the danger can be contained. Turkey’s modern democracy should be a leader to follow for Muslim states, not a follower of bad leads.

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The Guardian view on biodiversity: the lightness of the whale | Editorial

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:48:59 GMT2017-07-14T17:48:59Z

Experts warn that Earth’s sixth mass extinction has begun – and humans are to blame. Can Hope help us to confront biological annihilation?

A single blue whale, even with a skeleton of 4.5 tonnes, weighs imperceptibly in the world’s scales when biological annihilation is set on the other side. Yet perhaps the “new” 126-year-old star of the entrance hall of Natural History Museum in London may play some tiny part in tipping the balance. By replacing “Dippy” – the much-loved cast of a diplodocus skeleton – with a creature whose relatives still swim the oceans, the museum seeks to remind us of the glories that remain in the natural world, and the urgent need to conserve them.

The whale was unveiled as the Guardian revealed that researchers believe a sixth mass extinction is under way (marginally more optimistic scientists think we are merely on the verge of such an event). Estimating overall populations – not just the number of exterminated species – they conclude that up to 50% of all land animals have been lost in recent decades. Unlike the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, which saw off Dippy et al, this one is manmade. Scientists blame human over-population and consumption and expect the challenges to intensify, “painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life”. We are not just threatening the creatures with whom we share the world; we are risking our own future. Admittedly, other new research assures us that life on Earth is secure even in the event of cosmic calamity. But while the endurance of the portly micro-animals known as tardigrades may console those thinking on such a grand scale, most of us would rather these creatures have company – including ours.

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The best new releases to watch during Black History Month

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 12:00:29 GMT2017-02-02T12:00:29Z

With Oscar nominated films such as Fences and Hidden Figures, and a new three-part series on Nelson Mandela, this month has plenty to offer

If you’ve ever seen or read an August Wilson play, you know that writing is how the late playwright processed the world around him – a magnificently black world filled with funk and nuance in which language plays a central role. For Wilson, though, learning how to work with that language as a writer didn’t happen overnight. “For the longest time I couldn’t make my characters talk,” Wilson told me several years ago before his death in 2005. “I thought in order to incorporate the black vernacular into literature, the language had to be changed or altered in some way to sound more clear … until I realized that it’s no less romantic and meaningful to say, ‘It’s cold outside.’” As a play, Wilson’s Fences, which tells the story of a working-class black man – who was denied a baseball career in the major leagues – trying to raise his family in mid-century Pittsburgh, gives us that blunt romance and powerful meaning. As a movie, it gives us Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Enough said.

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Can black celebrities shake America out of its racial justice slumber? | Syreeta McFadden

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 11:30:05 GMT2016-07-28T11:30:05Z

African American stars are using their large platform to demand equal protection of black life in America – just as their forbears did

Once again, this is turning out to be a summer marked by prominent police killings of innocent black men. Black popular artists in American culture are complicating things for those fans who would prefer to remain silent or choose not to engage in the most significant civil rights issue of our time. These artists are shaking moderates out of complacency and extending our awareness to this crisis – just as their forebears did during the civil rights struggle in the 1960s.

Black musicians and artists are key partners in dramatizing equality and justice for black citizens. The cynical among us may presume that artists who call for action against systemic, racialized police violence are simply jumping on a cause célèbre – or that their earned privilege no longer affords them the right to be outraged. But that is a selective and ahistorical reading.

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Chelsea Manning: to those who kept me alive all these years, thank you | Chelsea E Manning

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 16:54:23 GMT2017-02-13T16:54:23Z

When I was afraid, you taught me how to keep going. When I was lost, you showed me the way

To those who have kept me alive for the past six years: minutes after President Obama announced the commutation of my sentence, the prison quickly moved me out of general population and into the restrictive housing unit where I am now held. I know that we are now physically separated, but we will never be apart and we are not alone. Recently, one of you asked me “Will you remember me?” I will remember you. How could I possibly forget? You taught me lessons I would have never learned otherwise.

When I was afraid, you taught me how to keep going. When I was lost, you showed me the way. When I was numb, you taught me how to feel. When I was angry, you taught me how to chill out. When I was hateful, you taught me how to be compassionate. When I was distant, you taught me how to be close. When I was selfish, you taught me how to share.

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The new side of Sheryl Sandberg is something to celebrate | Emma Brockes

Wed, 18 May 2016 17:09:06 GMT2016-05-18T17:09:06Z

In a moving post and a commencement address, the Facebook COO showed how her mind has been broadened. Let’s hope this rubs off on Silicon Valley

Sheryl Sandberg gave the commencement speech at UC Berkeley last weekend, during the course of which she said many stirring things about the future awaiting the class of 2016. She also built on her much-commented upon Mothers’ Day Facebook post, in which she spoke for the first time about life in the wake of her husband’s death last year. These two elements, the motivational speaking and the personal reflections on grief, combined to do something that has so far eluded Sandberg and the corporate world generally: the acknowledgement that people are human.

Related: The best commencement speeches: from Jill Abramson to Neil Gaiman

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Trump was sleazy with a reporter. Her awkward laugh felt all too familiar | Jessica Valenti

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 10:50:11 GMT2017-06-29T10:50:11Z

Women know from experience that, if a man says something sexual or inappropriate, calling him out is not always the best move

If there’s one thing women know how to do well, it’s deftly handle lecherous men. That’s why it didn’t surprise me when reporter Caitriona Perry laughed and smiled as Donald Trump made inappropriate comments toward her in the Oval Office. She was doing what we’ve all done, so many times over – trying to defuse an uncomfortable situation.

Trump, who was on the phone with the Irish prime minister at the time, asked Perry to come toward his desk while he called her “beautiful” and remarked on her “nice smile”. He then said to newly elected Leo Varadkar: “I bet she treats you well.”

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Ice agents are out of control. And they are only getting worse | Trevor Timm

Wed, 31 May 2017 10:00:21 GMT2017-05-31T10:00:21Z

The agency is so harmful to civil rights, there’s a good argument it should be disbanded altogether. Unfortunately they are only becoming more emboldened

With arrests of non-violent undocumented immigrants exploding across the country, it’s almost as if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agents are having an internal contest to see who can participate in the most cruel and inhumane arrest possible. The agency, emboldened by Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric, is out of control – and Congress is doing little to stop them.

Last week, Ice agents ate breakfast at a Michigan restaurant, complimented the chef on their meal and then proceeded to arrest three members of the restaurants kitchen staff, according to the owner.

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A split supreme court means contraception is more likely to remain a right | Scott Lemieux

Wed, 23 Mar 2016 20:16:31 GMT2016-03-23T20:16:31Z

Some religious employers have railed against including contraceptive coverage in health plans. Without Justice Scalia, though, they’re unlikely to prevail

On Wednesday, the US supreme court heard oral arguments in Zubik v Burwell. The case challenges the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers include contraceptive coverage in taxpayer-subsidized health plans, with potentially negative ramifications for women nationwide should the court rule against the government.

The arguments suggest, however, that the issue will remain unresolved by a shorthanded court likely to split 4-4, which may well be the best-case scenario under the circumstances.

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All-day podcasts and brick-sized books. Or, why 2015 was the year the long form fought back

Sat, 02 Jan 2016 08:00:05 GMT2016-01-02T08:00:05Z

Digital-age culture was meant to be bite-sized. But novels are getting longer, and I have learned to enjoy Wilbur SmithShortly before Christmas, Wilbur Smith, the writer of airport novels, gave an interview to a Sunday newspaper in which he spoke of his four wives in the following tender terms: “Two of them died on me, the first one hates me, and this one loves me, so I’ve covered the whole spectrum.” He no longer saw his children, he added: “They’ve got my sperm, that’s all … it’s sadder for them than it is for me, because they’re not getting any more money.” Perhaps the most charitable response was to observe that at least Smith was being consistent here: the real people in his life seemed as two-dimensional, judging from these descriptions, as the typical Smith hero, who is a rugged outdoorsman with a passion for hunting, hard liquor, and no-strings sex. (Oh, and for avoiding the gaboon adder, the deadly African snake Smith calls upon, with amusing frequency, when a character needs to die.) But my sneering’s a bit hypocritical, really. I only know about Smith’s cardboard-cutout characters because 2015 was the year I read two of his brick-sized novels, along with several similar vast works by Frederick Forsyth and Ken Follett: the kind of books, as one friend put it both succinctly and snobbily, that you find in self-catering holiday cottages. A further confession: mainly, I enjoyed them.In publishing at large, it was a year of very long works: of Franzen and Knausgård and Marlon James, if you have some kind of problem with gaboon adders and prefer literary fiction instead. A survey in December confirmed that novels in general are getting bigger: the average number of pages in a bestseller, it found, had grown by 25% since 1999. This is unexpected. Digital culture was always supposed to fragment our attention spans, eroding our powers of concentration with addictive interruptions and bite-sized stimuli – and it often does. But it’s also the case that e-readers make very long books much more practical: the 400-plus pages of Smith’s Eye of the Tiger (in which, by the way, a killer shark is destroyed by being induced to swallow a stick of gelignite hidden inside the body of a Moray eel) added no weight to my Kindle. Continue reading...[...]

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