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Opinion | The Guardian

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

Published: Fri, 26 May 2017 07:57:48 GMT2017-05-26T07:57:48Z

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

Make no mistake: Donald Trump has fueled violence against journalists | Richard Wolffe

Thu, 25 May 2017 16:16:41 GMT2017-05-25T16:16:41Z

Montana’s congressional candidate Greg Gianforte is charged with assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs. This began with Trump’s run for president

How did we get to this point? When did our public standards fall so low that charges of physical assault were met with the sound of crickets across the Republican side of Congress?

The assault charge now standing against Montana’s congressional candidate Greg Gianforte is itself a disqualifying moment for anyone attempting to enter elected office.

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The US healthcare system is at a dramatic fork in the road | Adam Gaffney

Thu, 25 May 2017 18:38:33 GMT2017-05-25T18:38:33Z

The Congressional Budget Office has given the revised American Health Care Act a dismal score. Will we let this terrible plan define our healthcare future?

The US healthcare system – and with it the health and welfare of millions – is poised on the edge of a knife. Though the fetid dysfunction and entanglements of the Trump presidency dominate the airwaves, this is an issue that will have life and death consequences for countless Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) dismal “scoring” of the revised American Health Care Act (AHCA) on Wednesday made clear just how dire America’s healthcare prospects are under Trump’s administration. But while the healthcare debate is often framed as a choice between Obamacare and the new Republican plan, there are actually three healthcare visions in competition today. These can be labelled healthcare past, healthcare present, and healthcare future.

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How a neo-Nazi turned Islamist flipped terror narratives upside down | Arwa Mahdawi

Thu, 25 May 2017 15:55:35 GMT2017-05-25T15:55:35Z

Devon Arthurs is a case study in the way we talk about terrorism, the arbitrary lines that often seem to get drawn between ideology and pathology

There are lots of ways to be a disaffected, disenfranchised young man. You can spout anonymous abuse online. You can shoot up a school. You can bomb abortion clinics in the name of being pro-life. You can kill black people peacefully praying at church, in the name of white supremacy. You can murder teenagers singing joyfully along at a pop concert, in the name of Isis and Allah.

What you are called, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re a criminal. Sometimes you’re a terrorist. Sometimes you’re a mental health statistic. How you are treated, when you do those things, varies. Sometimes you’re headline news around the world for days; you make an ignominious mark on the history books. Sometimes you’re a few paragraphs in the local papers, and barely make it into the national press.

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Is shooting unarmed black people considered 'law-and-order'? | Douglas Williams

Thu, 25 May 2017 10:00:26 GMT2017-05-25T10:00:26Z

Police officers in the US are rarely charged with a crime after killing unarmed civilians. The Trump administration will only make that record worse

The disregard for black Americans could scarcely have been more visible: Betty Shelby, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is back at work just days after a jury decided that her moment of fear justified the killing of Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed motorist. For those who cried out for justice in this case, it seems that call will go unanswered.

When Donald Trump spent the 2016 campaign saying that he would be a “law-and-order candidate”, is this what he had in mind? When his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, says that the US Department of Justice “undermined the respect for our police and made, oftentimes, their job more difficult” through such things as consent decrees and investigations into the police violence that fills our television screens with its bloody aftermath on a nightly basis, can we credibly expect that those who abuse their power will be brought to task?

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Why is Sean Hannity peddling bonkers conspiracy theories?

Thu, 25 May 2017 14:04:46 GMT2017-05-25T14:04:46Z

Watching the Fox News anchor give credence to a bogus story linking a murdered DNC staffer to WikiLeaks is painful – and deeply disturbing

Persistence is a funny thing. Either it’s an exalted sign of a noble being willing to suffer a task against all odds, or it’s an indication of an idiot unwilling to change his mind. Fox News’s Sean Hannity likes to think he fits into the former camp. But even Fox News knows he belongs in the latter.

The latest reason? Hannity persists in peddling a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that is not just brazenly misguided (it’s a conspiracy theory!) but is downright painful. This time, the theory revolves around Hannity’s exploitation of the untimely death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer named Seth Rich.

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Donald Trump is playing 'bad cop' with his extremist budget proposal | Michael Paarlberg

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:18:37 GMT2017-05-24T14:18:37Z

The president is useful to Republicans because he allows them to appear comparably less extreme than they actually are

An ambitious opening bid is a basic tactic of negotiation, basic enough that Donald Trump (or his ghostwriter, at least) wrote about it in The Art of the Deal: “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing … Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want.”

Trump’s draconian budget proposal has all the signs of a gambit designed to get what Trump, and his negotiating partners in Congress, really want, which is a slightly less draconian budget. So it’s cold comfort to its intended targets – the poor, the sick, many in rural red states Trump won – that the budget plan won’t pass in its current form. No president’s budget plan ever does. “Dead on arrival” is how John McCain described it, though his objection was that it does not shift enough money from welfare recipients to defense contractors.

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Donald Trump's panoply of abuses demand more than a special prosecutor | Joshua Matz

Tue, 23 May 2017 15:54:01 GMT2017-05-23T15:54:01Z

The public needs a quick, transparent investigation into the president’s foreign entanglements. Robert Mueller will not be able to deliver that

Last week, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, named the former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”. Mueller may also examine “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”. He is empowered to “prosecute federal cries arising from the investigation of these matters”.

This is a very big deal, as you surely know if you have recently glanced in the general direction of any newspaper. Defenders of the rule of law had spent months calling for a special counsel. Finally, they got their wish: an special counsel focused on Trump and Russia. Trump responded by fuming and cowering in the White House.

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The terror of lynching haunts black Americans again | Steven W Thrasher

Wed, 24 May 2017 13:51:57 GMT2017-05-24T13:51:57Z

A Mississippi legislator called for lynchings on the same day that a black student was stabbed on campus. We are facing a crisis of racism

Lynching is back in America’s headlines. On Saturday, an African American student, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed on the campus of the University of Maryland in what was widely – and rightly – called a lynching. That same day, the Mississippi state representative Karl Oliver wrote on Facebook that people who supported the removal of Confederate memorials “should be LYNCHED”.

Both cases are grotesque, obscene, and very reflective of our present racist crisis embodied by the Trump era.

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Will the next FBI director be a J Edgar Hoover-like figure? | Harrison Rudolph

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:00:00 GMT2017-05-23T10:00:00Z

The Senate must ensure that Donald Trump’s nominee is independent from the White House – and doesn’t pledge loyalty to the president

The country is still reeling after the bombshell report that Donald Trump asked the former FBI director James Comey to shut down the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn. Did the president fire Comey to slow down the FBI Russia investigation? Did Trump obstruct justice?

These questions are getting the attention that they deserve. But the focus on Comey’s firing is obscuring the issue of who Trump will hire to replace him – and the threat that this appointment poses to Americans’ civil liberties and civil rights.

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The degree of self-sabotage in the Trump White House is staggering | Ross Barkan

Fri, 19 May 2017 12:55:03 GMT2017-05-19T12:55:03Z

By stacking his inner circle with blindly loyal neophytes and assuming he knows far more than he does, Trump guarantees daily chaos

On Wednesday night, for just a moment, Donald Trump acted like the sane president he will never be.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”

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The Trump administration's Iran policy is dangerous and flawed | Emma Ashford

Tue, 23 May 2017 10:00:00 GMT2017-05-23T10:00:00Z

Trump’s strong criticism of Iran may have been pleasing to his Saudi Arabian hosts, but it should worry Americans

Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a huge success. The Saudis wisely pandered to the new president’s foibles, rolling out the red carpet for a lavish celebration. Even Trump’s speech on Islam, a potential minefield, was generally well-received by his hosts.

Yet while Trump’s speech – and his strong criticism of Iran – may have been pleasing to his Gulf States’ hosts, it should worry Americans. Pushing back on Tehran allows Trump to symbolically break with Barack Obama’s policies and is popular among congressional Republicans, but it is also dangerous, with the potential to undermine the nuclear deal, slow the fight against Isis, and embroil the United States more deeply in parochial regional struggles.

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Ivanka Trump's family leave plan is a fig leaf for her father's worst policies | Lucia Graves

Tue, 23 May 2017 20:34:42 GMT2017-05-23T20:34:42Z

Ivanka acts as if she were her father’s better angel and would have us draw a bright line between Trump’s views and her own. But that line is illusory

Ivanka’s paid family leave program in Trump’s 2018 budget is the perfect metaphor for her role in the administration: it serves as a fig leaf for his most oppressive policies.

She’s made women’s empowerment her signature issue, saying as far back as the Republican National Convention: “Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties, they should be the norm.”

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The violence of Erdoğan’s bodyguards in Washington DC is Turkey's new normal | Ahmet A Sabancı

Mon, 22 May 2017 19:14:01 GMT2017-05-22T19:14:01Z

The violent scenes in the US capital were typical of Turkey, where anyone who criticizes the government is labeled a terrorist and treated with brutality

On 16 May, a slice of Erdoğan’s Turkey found its way to Washington DC. That day, a group gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence to protest against the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. There, they were beaten, threatened and attacked by the Turkish leader’s bodyguards. A total of 11 people were injured. Instead of the attackers, two protesters were arrested.

This is what the world saw that day, and this is the story that videos of the incident tell. But, according to Turkish pro-government media, which includes all mainstream newspapers and TV channels in Turkey, the world got the story wrong.

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Why Donald Trump's 'Arab Nato' would be a terrible mistake | Rashid Khalidi

Mon, 22 May 2017 10:00:20 GMT2017-05-22T10:00:20Z

This planned Sunni coalition would alienate Shia populations and Iran. How can it be in the national interest of the US to support one side in a sectarian conflict?

There is nothing new under the sun in the Middle East, where almost everything we associate with civilization was first invented: writing, cities, agriculture, astronomy and libraries, for instance. So for anyone with knowledge of Middle Eastern history, the news that the United States is planning “an Arab Nato” seemed like déjà vu.

Back in the 1950’s, at the height of the cold war, the US was busy putting together a similar alliance system, the Baghdad Pact, also known as Cento. But just as that alliance was meant to group together several countries of the region not only against the Soviet Union but also against Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, the fine print reveals that there is a specific local focus to this alliance. According to one report, this is not meant to be a general Arab alliance, but rather a “unified Sunni coalition of countries” intended to counter Iran.

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If Trump does nothing, 50% of South Sudan's population could soon be gone | Payton Knopf

Mon, 22 May 2017 10:00:20 GMT2017-05-22T10:00:20Z

The consequences of South Sudan’s conflict are significant for US interests. Peace could be an early win for the Trump administration

Crimes against humanity. Mass atrocities. Mass displacement. While these terms accurately describe the conflict in Syria, they are equally applicable to South Sudan’s continuing civil war. Left to its present trajectory of displacement and famine, roughly half of South Sudan’s population will have died of starvation or fled the country by the war’s fourth anniversary in December – an occurrence nearly unprecedented in modern history.

In a study conducted by the South Sudan Law Society using the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, 41% of South Sudanese exhibited symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), rates comparable to those of post-genocide Rwanda and post-genocide Cambodia. That was two years ago.

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Trump is a president gripped by delusions of absolute power | Jill Abramson

Wed, 17 May 2017 17:27:24 GMT2017-05-17T17:27:24Z

We expect the leader of the United States to uphold the constitution, but this one confronts and threatens it every day

‘I have the absolute right” to share classified information with Russia. So tweeted the United States president in defence of having spilled national security secrets to the Russians. Note that well, and put the emphasis on the word absolute, because the president’s use of the word shows that he lacks any understanding of the US constitution.

America’s founding fathers were deathly afraid of centralised, absolute power. This is why the government they structured had three equal branches, and plenty of checks and balances. And the first amendment is first for a reason. Freedom of the press is guaranteed because the founders envisaged the press as a bulwark against absolute power. This goes to the heart of who we are, and what we might become.

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Ignore Donald Trump's words on his foreign tour. Pay attention to his actions

Sat, 20 May 2017 15:31:33 GMT2017-05-20T15:31:33Z

Whatever words he utters, Trump has already shown that he will only continue a status quo legacy of violent American intervention in the Middle East

Donald Trump is a man full of good ideas. Take his schedule this coming week as an example. On Friday, Trump hightailed it out of a confrontational United States to begin his auspicious first foreign trip as president. Good idea.

Previous US presidents have visited either Canada or Mexico on their initial ventures out of the country but – as everyone knows – you can drive to those countries from the United States, so they don’t really count. Trump, on other hand, will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican on his first departure from the US, proving once and for all that he’s a better president.

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My reaction to the Times Square crash: I hoped his name wasn't Muhammad | Mona Chalabi

Mon, 22 May 2017 21:06:49 GMT2017-05-22T21:06:49Z

When I heard about the car crash, I worried that it was a terrorist attack. My first thought should have been about the consequences, not the motives

When I got a news alert last week saying that a car had crashed into pedestrians in New York’s Times Square, my first thought was: “Please, say the driver’s name isn’t Muhammad.” That’s wrong. My first thought should have been about the consequences, not the motives. I should have thought “I hope no one was hurt”, but my brain has been thoroughly trained to view every atrocity as a sorting exercise: terrorism/not terrorism.

That exercise is a dangerous one. Assuming national security and counter-terrorism is one and the same thing (and equating terrorism with “radical Islamic terrorism”, as Donald Trump so often does) simply ignores the other threats that America is facing right now.

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Billionaire Betsy DeVos wants to scrap student debt forgiveness. Surprised? | Jamie Peck

Fri, 19 May 2017 17:38:43 GMT2017-05-19T17:38:43Z

The plan by the secretary of education represents the Trump administration’s multi-part assault on public education and the non-rich

When Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos secretary of education, America’s school-going people worried it was only a matter of time before she brought back debtors’ prison for student loan defaulters and subcontracted out K-12 education to Nickelodeon.

Now Donald and Betsy are one step closer to making that vision a reality, with $10.6bn in cuts to crucial education programs, including a student loan forgiveness program first implemented by a Republican administration.

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Impeachment seemed impossible a few days ago. Not anymore | Lawrence Douglas

Thu, 18 May 2017 06:35:15 GMT2017-05-18T06:35:15Z

The announcement that Robert Mueller III, the former FBI director, will oversee the Russian probe strengthens the spreading sense that Donald Trump is finished

The “presumption of regularity”. It is a term largely unfamiliar to those outside legal or governmental circles but one that all Americans should now learn. Born of centuries-old common law, the presumption stands for the idea that government officials are presumed to act lawfully and in proper discharge their office – absent evidence to the contrary.

Every elected and appointed official enjoys this presumption. It is not easily squandered. It is meant to withstand errors in judgment and lapses in leadership. What it does not indulge is a clear pattern of abuse. Once the presumption collapses, the official is no longer fit for office.

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Roger Ailes's life achievement? He helped create this nightmare world | Arwa Mahdawi

Fri, 19 May 2017 13:29:34 GMT2017-05-19T13:29:34Z

A prescient propagandist, Ailes was quick to see the power of television as a tool of political persuasion. We are feeling the consequences of that every day

Roger Ailes was not a good guy. Normally I would steer clear of speaking ill of the dead, but in the case of the founder of Fox News, who died aged 77 on Thursday, I think this represents a “fair and balanced” point of view.

Of course, not everyone shares the same perspective. Rupert Murdoch, who hired Ailes to create Fox in 1996, said in a statement: “He will be remembered by the many people on both sides of the camera that he discovered, nurtured and promoted.” Murdoch diplomatically forget to mention the many women, on both sides of the camera, who Ailes allegedly harassed, exploited and, to use the words of one former Fox News employee, “psychologically tortured”.

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By Donald Trump's standards, the Watergate cover-up was a thing of genius | Walter Shapiro

Thu, 18 May 2017 10:00:23 GMT2017-05-18T10:00:23Z

Say what you will about the dark inner recesses of Richard Nixon’s soul, but, in light of Donald Trump, it is easy to feel nostalgic for the 1970s

In August of 1974, as Richard Nixon’s presidency was receiving the last rites, I recall wandering through Lafayette Park near the White House marveling at the steamy summer silence. After years of raucous antiwar protests, a president was about to be toppled with almost no one marching or waving a picket sign.

Related: Impeachment seemed impossible a few days ago. Not anymore | Lawrence Douglas

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Chelsea Manning's release is the inspiring proof: nothing is impossible | Evan Greer

Thu, 18 May 2017 09:30:22 GMT2017-05-18T09:30:22Z

Chelsea has taught me that no matter how huge the obstacles to social and political change may seem, when people come together they can succeed

Yesterday morning, Chelsea Manning walked out of military prison a free woman.

I’d be lying if I said that I always thought this day would come. Over the last few years that I’ve been one of Chelsea’s close friends and supporters, there were many times that I had lost hope. I’m ashamed to admit that during some of our phone conversations, I would feign optimism in an attempt to raise Chelsea’s spirits, while quietly despairing that she wouldn’t survive.

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We don't need Clinton to go 'onward together'. Fight Trump in other ways | Rob Hunter

Thu, 18 May 2017 14:15:17 GMT2017-05-18T14:15:17Z

Hillary Clinton’s organisation will not represent popular discontent. We need to make ourselves heard in the streets – not give money to the Democratic party

Onward Together, Hillary Clinton’s new political organization, seeks to capitalise upon widespread opposition to the Trump administration. In announcing the group on Monday, Clinton described a vision of a clearing house for coordinating millions of people in protests, fundraising, and campaigning. In other words, it’s the latest attempt to corral mass direct action into avenues that are acceptable to the Democratic party.

But Onward Together threatens to dampen efforts at building solidarity and counter-power nationwide. Partially that’s because of the likelihood the organisation will exert rightward ideological pressure on wayward Democratic candidates. Mainly, though, the threat lies in the fact that it is helmed by a politician who rejects politics.

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The Trump news you missed: he asked Comey to jail journalists | Trevor Timm

Wed, 17 May 2017 17:25:29 GMT2017-05-17T17:25:29Z

Given how much the media has hampered his administration, Trump’s goal seems to be to snuff it out any way possible

By now, everyone has heard the blockbuster news that Trump allegedly asked the FBI director, James Comey, to drop the Michael Flynn investigation. But buried deep inside in the the New York Times story was another bombshell that was just as important: Trump reportedly urged Comey to jail journalists who publish classified information.

Tied to this disturbing news was another story that didn’t get enough attention last week amongst the chaos: the Washington Post reported multiple times that part of the reason Trump fired Comey was that he was incensed that the FBI was not being more aggressive in investigating leaks coming out of his administration. Apparently, Trump was even insisting at one point that the FBI needed to go after leaks about non-classified information (which is not a crime by anyone’s standards).

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Bragging about our intel to Russia? Trump is too needy to be president | Richard Wolffe

Tue, 16 May 2017 19:41:55 GMT2017-05-16T19:41:55Z

So desperate is Trump to impress the Russians, it seems he’s giving away our most classified information. The only winner here is Vladimir Putin

There is nothing Donald Trump loves more than a great superlative. He builds the tallest hotels. He is the most successful businessman. His inaugural crowds were the biggest ever. None of these claims are remotely true, no matter how exaggerated the adjective nor how emphatic the delivery.

But after his alleged blabbing of highly classified intelligence to the Russians, Trump can now lay claim to the greatest superlative of any sitting president: he is the biggest bozo of them all. Bigger than the Bush who thought invading Iraq would be easy. Bigger than the biggest president who got stuck in his bathtub.

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Is Donald Trump in Watergate territory yet? | Elizabeth Drew

Tue, 16 May 2017 14:20:29 GMT2017-05-16T14:20:29Z

There’s been a widespread – but far from unanimous – sense that Trump won’t last out the four years of his presidential term

Americans are wired in a way that leads them to get twitchy when a president defies the norms of democratic governance. Then they begin to ask: “Is this Watergate?”

Whether or not they were around at the time, these citizens are aware that in the early 1970s, Richard Nixon was forced to leave office for having challenged our system of checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judicial branches – to the point where we had a constitutional crisis.

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Many want to know Donald Trump's state of mind. So do the courts | Joshua Matz

Tue, 16 May 2017 16:47:07 GMT2017-05-16T16:47:07Z

You’ve probably asked yourself: what is Trump thinking? You’re not alone. Lawyers and judges, too, are taking an interest in just this question

Donald Trump’s campaign of presidential sabotage accelerates with each passing day. Recent casualties include James Comey (lost his job), Rod Rosenstein (lost his credibility) and some top-secret intelligence (lost to the Russians). Not to mention some pretty important principles, like the rule of law and respect for apolitical law enforcement.

You’ve probably asked yourself: “What is Trump thinking?” You’re not alone. Lawyers and judges, too, have started probing the basis for Trump’s latest acts of constitutional arson. While they have plenty of raw material, they face a major obstacle: to study Trump’s mind is to enter a strange new world where laws of grammar, logic and meaning are always up for grabs and retroactively adjustable.

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This is what emboldened white supremacists look like | Douglas Williams

Mon, 15 May 2017 10:00:42 GMT2017-05-15T10:00:42Z

With Donald Trump and his ‘America first’ rhetoric, these groups are seeing a dramatic surge. It’s up to us to stop them

It was a scene out of the darkest days of the civil rights movement. A couple of dozen white supremacists rallied around a statue of Robert E Lee, a Confederate army general, in Virginia, carrying torches and chanting: “You will not replace us.”

But this was no black-and-white newsreel, relaying the horrors of a time long since past. This grotesque scene played out on Saturday, at a rally headlined by the white supremacist Richard Spencer.

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America is still segregated. We need to be honest about why | Richard Rothstein

Tue, 16 May 2017 14:48:00 GMT2017-05-16T14:48:00Z

Little has been done to desegregate neighborhoods because we think it is the result of private prejudice instead of explicit government policy. That is a myth

Residential segregation exacerbates many national problems. In education, a black-white achievement gap persists largely because the poorest pupils are concentrated in racially homogenous schools where instruction is overwhelmed by children’s out-of-school challenges; these schools are segregated because their neighborhoods are segregated.

Growing inequality partly reflects a racial wealth gap. Middle-class white Americans are more likely to live in neighborhoods with rising home values (and thus, family equity) while their middle-class black counterparts are more likely to rent, or live in neighborhoods with stagnant values.

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Imagining Donald Trump's downfall: a Greek tragedy in five acts | Lawrence Douglas

Mon, 15 May 2017 17:31:16 GMT2017-05-15T17:31:16Z

The James Comey scandal embroiling the White House has the making of a tragedy –although the tragic figure is hardly heroic

Sophocles might have done it justice: a leader of immense power is so obsessed with perceived challenges to his legitimacy that he behaves in a manner that destroys whatever legitimacy he might have. It has the making of a tragedy –although in this case, the tragic figure is hardly heroic and the unfolding tragedy is potentially national in scope.

Related: Trump has no shame: that's what makes him dangerous

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Trump’s voter fraud commission is a shameless white power grab | Steven W Thrasher

Fri, 12 May 2017 16:20:01 GMT2017-05-12T16:20:01Z

There were only four documented cases of attempted voter fraud in the 2016 elections. This commission is about something else entirely

It’s been a terrible week for American voting rights. On Thursday, Donald Trump announced that Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach will work with the vice-president, Mike Pence, to lead a commission on voter fraud and suppression. Let’s be clear about what this is: a white power grab as naked and frightening as last summer’s nude statues of Trump himself.

Before the election, Trump engaged in race-baiting when he called for poll monitors and told his supporters to “take a look at Philadelphia, what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St Louis”. It’s no coincidence that these are three cities with large African American populations.

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Why the 'alt-left' will succeed where centrists fail | Bhaskar Sunkara

Mon, 15 May 2017 10:00:42 GMT2017-05-15T10:00:42Z

The label is meant as a slur to discredit us. But that won’t change the fact that leftwing populists speak to anti-system anger in a way that others don’t

Could you be a member of a political conspiracy without even knowing it? I’ve found out in recent months that I’m a member of the “alt-left”. Commentators like Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott try to break down the movement’s main currents: a handful of randos on Twitter, Glenn Greenwald, Susan Sarandon, Tulsi Gabbard and Cornel West.

Not bad company, if I do say so myself. For Wolcott, what we all share is a soft spot for Russia, a kind of “Trumpian” rhetoric that attacks cultural liberalism and a shocking opposition to the “CIA/FBI/NSA alphabet-soup national-security matrix” he so trusts.

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The Dakota pipeline is already leaking. Why wait for a big spill to act? | Julian Brave NoiseCat

Fri, 12 May 2017 16:50:48 GMT2017-05-12T16:50:48Z

The leaks prove that the water protectors have been right all along. The pool of tar it left behind is also a warning of what’s to come

Energy Transfer Partners’ not yet operational Dakota Access pipeline leaked 84 gallons – or about a bathtub-full – of shale oil at a pump station in Spink County, South Dakota, on 4 April. The station stands roughly 100 miles south-east of the site of indigenous protest encampments along the Missouri river, where for months in 2016 the Standing Rock Sioux’s stand against Dakota Access captivated the world.

Despite enduring controversy over the Dakota Access pipeline, the South Dakota department of environment and natural resources did not issue a press release about the mishap because the department deals with pipeline leaks all the time. The department only issues a press release when a detected leak threatens drinking water, fisheries or public health. It logged the Dakota Access incident in its database, but the spill remained unknown to the public for over a month until local reporter Shannon Marvel broke the story for Aberdeen, South Dakota’s American News on Wednesday.

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Humanities teach students to think. Where would we be without them? | Francine Prose

Fri, 12 May 2017 10:00:15 GMT2017-05-12T10:00:15Z

Following announced funding cuts in US universities, is it entirely paranoid to wonder if humanities are under attack because they enable students to think?

Humanities departments in America are once again being axed. The reasons, one hears, are economic rather than ideological. It’s not that schools don’t care about the humanities – they just can’t afford them. But if one looks at these institutions’ priorities, one finds a hidden ideology at work.

Earlier this month, the State University of New York (Suny) Stony Brook announced a plan to eliminate several of the college’s well-regarded departments for budgetary reasons. Undergraduates will no longer be able to major in comparative literature, cinema and cultural studies or theater arts.

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Puerto Rico's debt crisis is a wake-up call. It could be crushed like Greece | Martin Guzman

Mon, 08 May 2017 12:11:40 GMT2017-05-08T12:11:40Z

Puerto Rico’s future is not in the hands of its people, but in the hands of a group of non-elected technocrats, that as such are not accountable to Puerto Ricans

Puerto Rico’s government recently declared that the country will seek bankruptcy under Title III of Promesa, a federal law enacted by the US Congress to deal with Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. The decision triggers the beginning of a debt restructuring process, the largest ever registered in the municipal bond market of the US.

It was a sensible move. The country does not have the means to pay its debt. It needs to restore the sustainability of its debt position as a pre-condition for any plan for economic recovery, and the only way for that is through a restructuring process.

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The Trump administration has an interesting definition of diversity | Arwa Mahdawi

Thu, 11 May 2017 13:44:16 GMT2017-05-11T13:44:16Z

For the Republicans, ‘diversity of opinions’ has now become a way to bulldoze criticism of a lack of gender and racial diversity

Now that the Republicans have passed a bill to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, they’ve got to start the hard work of putting together an Unaffordable Care Act, better known as Trumpcare – and they’ve found just the right men for the job. “Men” being the operative word: 13 men and zero women were initially chosen for the Senate healthcare group.

Related: Ivanka Trump can't be white-washed with 'women's empowerment' talk | Arwa Mahdawi

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Someone remind Donald Trump he is not above the law | Trevor Timm

Thu, 11 May 2017 17:00:43 GMT2017-05-11T17:00:43Z

It’s hard to tell what’s worse: that Trump thinks he can get away with firing Comey, or that he is so nakedly hiding the true reason for the decision

There are so many shocking aspects to Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of the FBI director, James Comey, it’s almost hard to put into words, but one facet sticks out above all else: Trump has essentially declared that the president is above the law, and Americans of all political stripes should be incredibly disturbed by that thought.

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A sneaky way to hurt social justice: cut US Census Bureau funding | Mona Chalabi

Thu, 11 May 2017 16:27:35 GMT2017-05-11T16:27:35Z

Census numbers underpin just about everything we know about the economy, education, health and justice in America. That’s why they matter so much

Here’s a free bit of advice to power-hungry leaders who are concerned about bad PR: don’t publicly take away people’s rights, just stop counting the abuses. After the US Census Bureau was given a painfully tight budget this April, the Director decided yesterday he would not be the one to implement it. He resigned, ending a 27-year career at the Census Bureau.

If you’re not particularly riled up by the words “Census Bureau resignation”, that’s understandable. Normally, this bit of the federal government quietly plods along measuring things like poverty, racial inequality ... oh, and determining congressional representation. That last one’s a biggie.

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Yes, the courts 'second-guessed' Donald Trump's motives. That's their job | Joshua Matz

Tue, 09 May 2017 15:54:29 GMT2017-05-09T15:54:29Z

Some say its irresponsible of courts to probe the president’s motives. Here’s why it’s not

Questions about responsibility dominated oral argument on Monday before the US fourth circuit court of appeals, which sat in judgment of Donald Trump’s revised travel ban. By the end of the sitting, it appeared likely that a majority of the court will uphold a ruling against Trump – but that its ruling will draw passionate dissents.

This was no ordinary case. Rather than assign a three-judge panel, the fourth circuit undertook on its own initiative to sit en banc. Through a grueling 90-minute session before the full 13-member court, advocates and judges sparred over standing, statutes and arcane doctrines. Most of the rhetorical firepower, though, was reserved for a single question: whether Trump’s order is based in anti-Muslim animus and thus violates the establishment clause.

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Swap 'Clinton' for 'Trump' to see just how bad the Flynn scandal is | Richard Wolffe

Tue, 09 May 2017 18:06:24 GMT2017-05-09T18:06:24Z

What do you think the Republican reaction would be to this state of affairs? Never mind Monica Lewinsky. It would be all impeachment, all the time

Let’s play a game, shall we?

Let’s pretend that Hillary Clinton, who won almost 3 million votes more than Donald Trump, also won the presidency in the electoral college. And let’s pretend that President Clinton, once installed in the White House, was facing a hostile Republican-controlled Congress.

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The Guardian view on school funding: Tory manifesto just gets flimsier | Editorial

Thu, 25 May 2017 23:05:42 GMT2017-05-25T23:05:42Z

New analysis shows pledge to increase spending in real terms doesn’t stack up

The election campaign restarts today with what is becoming a set-piece occasion: the moment when the Institute for Fiscal Studies publishes its detailed analysis of spending promises – the nearest thing to an independent fact-based assessment of the party manifestos. Overnight they released a harsh message about the impact of the Tories’ proposals on the schools budget that will remind voters that austerity is far from over.

Related: Schools face years of funding cuts if Tories win election, say reports

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The Guardian view on press freedom: protecting the people’s right to know | Editorial

Thu, 25 May 2017 18:42:18 GMT2017-05-25T18:42:18Z

Donald Trump’s demonisation of the media is bad news for the public, not just journalists

A Montana court will soon consider the charge of misdemeanour assault against Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte for allegedly “body-slamming” the Guardian’s reporter Ben Jacobs. By then, voters will have delivered their verdict on him in today’s election (many had cast ballots before Wednesday’s events). Three state newspapers withdrew endorsements almost instantly. Others can judge for themselves from the audio recording of events and an independent eyewitness account.

The incident comes amid the demonising of journalism by the US right, which Donald Trump has escalated dramatically. The constitution enshrines freedom of the press; the president has declared reputable media organisations “the enemy of the American people”. Earlier this month a reporter was arrested for trying to ask the health secretary a question. Ask yourself why those who purport to serve the people, or say they want to, do not simply reply or walk away. No one should be assaulted. But when it happens to someone asking important and unwelcome questions, it is not only an attack on an individual, and on the media, but on the public’s right to know.

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The Guardian view on Trumpian diplomacy: not up to much | Editorial

Wed, 24 May 2017 18:16:56 GMT2017-05-24T18:16:56Z

The US president’s foreign tour has underlined how inadequate his art of the deal is when handling relations between states

Just over halfway through his first foreign trip as US president this week, Donald Trump tweeted a typically modest assessment of his progress: “Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East were great. Trying hard for PEACE. Doing well.”

In a Trumpian context, that is perhaps closer to the mark than is usual for his pronouncements. The photo opportunities and soundbites have been a useful distraction from domestic woes: first, the mounting questions over his campaign’s relations with Russia. Second, a budget which is extreme and punitive towards poorer Americans and marked out by its highly questionable accounting. On the initial leg of his trip he avoided terrible errors – partly by avoiding press conferences – though his verdict on the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem (“so amazing”) was grotesque. He replaced his vicious portrayal of Islam as a religion of hatred with a tribute to “one of the world’s great faiths”.

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The Guardian view on Brazilian corruption: the public deserve a voice | Editorial

Tue, 23 May 2017 18:16:26 GMT2017-05-23T18:16:26Z

The explosive allegations faced by Brazil’s president Michel Temer are just the latest manifestation of a sprawling scandal. A quick political fix will not solve the problems

“I will not resign. Oust me if you want,” Michel Temer said this week. Brazilians would like to take the president at his word. After three years of political turmoil and public disgust, the “Carwash” investigation into corruption that involved some of the country’s biggest companies and a frightening number of its politicians was under growing pressure; some feared it was being neutered. Then came explosive allegations that a secret tape captured Mr Temer discussing hush-money. His ratings had fallen to single figures even before these latest claims. Now Brazil’s top prosecutor has formally accused him of conspiring to silence witnesses and obstruct a corruption investigation; and he has dropped a legal bid to have the case suspended.

Mr Temer denies wrongdoing, insisting the recording has been doctored, and says stepping down would be an admission of guilt. Other considerations are no doubt weighing on his mind – notably that he would lose legal protections. As president, impeachment would require approval by Congress to proceed, and he cannot be charged over allegations that precede his time in office. Support within his Brazilian Democratic Party and coalition is crumbling. Allies can see the attractions of letting him take the flak for weakening the Carwash inquiry, and handle a case beginning next month in the supreme electoral court, which could annul the 2014 election. But even so, Brazil could soon have its third leader in under a year.

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The Guardian view on moderating Facebook: we need to talk | Editorial

Mon, 22 May 2017 18:55:14 GMT2017-05-22T18:55:14Z

Should Facebook be policed as a public space or a private one? We need a wide-ranging debate on this giant company’s responsibilities

Facebook became one of the largest media companies in the world by positioning itself as not a media company at all. That way it could not be held to the same kind of legal responsibilities as its competitors were. Instead it was, and remains, largely free to set its own editorial standards. As our revelations this week show, these are sometimes shocking. Now that Facebook has grown so large that it is no longer just a media company but a kind of hybrid beast that does not fit into any of the traditional categories, the question of who should control its content is hard to dodge and harder to answer. At the moment, Facebook claims the right to determine its own policies, although this is constrained by national or – in the case of the EU – supranational laws.

The main policy is that nothing should be taken down without a complaint, although some clearly objectionable content has in the past been left up even after complaints. The company has responded to criticism and hired thousands of new moderators. Pornography and pirated intellectual property can be detected and zapped by algorithmic analysis. But that’s the easy bit. The hard part is making judgments about human interactions: bullying, hatred and exploitation. Facebook executives in Australia have just been found touting the ability to target users as young as 14 for advertising when they are feeling “stressed … worthless … or insecure”. Although the company denies that it uses or condones the use of these powers, it is a horrifying example of the reach it gains from its industrial collection and processing of personal data. It also shows up the limitations of the company’s categorisation of “vulnerable” people, which forms a central part of its policy on abusive or violent speech.

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The Observer view on the Tory manifesto | Observer editorial

Sat, 20 May 2017 23:05:39 GMT2017-05-20T23:05:39Z

The Conservative proposals are full of promise but Brexit-related pitfalls are all too obvious

Theresa May’s election manifesto is a watershed moment in British politics. It defines Conservativism’s decisive and long overdue break with Thatcherism . The declaration in the statement of manifesto principles that Conservatives do not believe in the “untrammelled free market”, nor “selfish individualism and abhor social division, unfairness, inequality and injustice” is startling. No less arresting are the following paragraphs declaring a belief in the “power of government to do good” and that “nobody, however powerful, succeeded alone and we all have a debt to others”. Society, it proclaims, is “a contract between generations”.

These should be unexceptional statements, but they would not have been made by Lady Thatcher, who had no truck with social contracts or the capacity of government to do good. After 40 years in which the dominant Conservative doctrines have been that virtue lies in individualism, that markets rarely make mistakes, that while social bonds may be important they must not obstruct the process of wealth generation and that state action is always self-defeating, Theresa May’s principles are little short of astonishing. Perhaps as eyecatching are many of the proposed policies, from capping energy bills to giving workers rights to acquire information. As Britain leaves the European Union, its mainstream party of the right is borrowing much more from Europe’s successful Christian democrats than the car crash that is contemporary American Republicanism.

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The Guardian view on irreligion in the US: a rising tide | Editorial

Fri, 19 May 2017 18:33:31 GMT2017-05-19T18:33:31Z

Growing numbers of Americans no longer say they belong to any church. This could profoundly change politics and cultureFor the first time, the number of Americans saying that the Bible is composed of “fables” by human beings has overtaken the number who say it is the literal truth. The preponderant belief, held by about half the country, is still that the Bible is “inspired by God” but not to be taken literally. Although that figure has hardly varied over 50 years, the rise of scepticism and the decline of determined credulity marks an important shift in American culture. It takes effort, as well as ignorance, to read the Bible as if it could be literally true, and the world less than 10,000 years old. Somehow this effort has come to seem less and less worthwhile over the last 20 years, in which the number of unaffiliated adults has doubled to 18% according to Gallup’s figures. These underplay the generational change: among young Americans Christianity is eroding very rapidly. More than a third of those born after 1981 now say they have no religion. In 1957, the figure for all ages was 1%. That is lower than the corresponding British figure, but the direction of travel is the same.The idea that the US formed a unique and lasting exception to the general secularisation of the west has been part of the conventional wisdom for a very long time. Last year, research by Professor David Voas pointed out that this has been untrue for at least 50 years. The process that hollowed out Christianity in Europe has been at work in the US too, although running decades behind. This has little to do with theology. Despite the claim that conservative churches flourish while liberal ones shrivel, conservative churches have shrunk too. In the US, the so-called evangelical churches now preach a form of nationalist and materialist Christianity where the flag is displayed far more prominently than the cross, and the preacher’s private jet is taken as a mark of God’s favour. Parents, and perhaps especially mothers, have not been passing on Christianity to their children, and especially their daughters. This has been going on ever since the second world war, slowly at first, accelerating gradually from the 60s, and now at speeds almost visible to the naked eye. The Trump presidency, and the election that produced it, have tended to make the process more salient and more powerful. Continue reading...[...]

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The Guardian view on America’s Russia investigation: watershed or Watergate? | Editorial

Thu, 18 May 2017 18:43:00 GMT2017-05-18T18:43:00Z

The appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel means the road lies open to prosecutions that will define the future of the Trump administration – and perhaps its survival

The first months of Donald Trump’s presidency have been marked by extraordinary chaos and disruption. The administration has begun to come apart at the seams, above all because of the president’s own behaviour and incompetence. Every day brings a new diversion. But the appointment by the US justice department of a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a clarifying act. For the administration it is a watershed moment. It may also, perhaps, prove to be a Watergate one.

Special prosecutors are lesser but still powerful versions of judge-appointed independent counsels such as Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigation itself and Kenneth Starr in the Bill Clinton era. Congress found them just too independent and the law authorising them lapsed in 1999. Robert Mueller is in the job thanks to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who took on the issue after his ideologue boss Jeff Sessions rightly recused himself, and has some of the appearance of a political appointment. But it has been welcomed by senior Democrats and Republicans alike. That the appointment was made in the face of White House insistence that it was entirely unnecessary, and in the midst of yet another “worst week so far” for the president, reflects well on Mr Rosenstein and the justice department. The decision is a sign that constitutional principles and ethical norms survive within the federal government in spite of Mr Trump’s utter disregard for them in so many ways. It will reshape politics on Capitol Hill too.

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The Guardian view on Assad’s crematorium: he cannot hide his tracks | Editorial

Tue, 16 May 2017 18:38:52 GMT2017-05-16T18:38:52Z

The Syrian regime’s apparent efforts to conceal evidence of its crimes suggests it could be more worried about international justice than it cares to admit

The Assad regime in Syria is not only responsible for the worst state-orchestrated mass killings so far this century, it now appears to be trying to cover up at least some of its tracks in the belief that this will one day help it evade accountability when the war is over. It is a cynical ploy which must not be allowed to succeed.

A place where this new sinister development can be most clearly seen is a military prison on the outskirts of Damascus: the infamous Saydnaya detention centre, where thousands of opponents of Bashar al-Assad have died of torture, starvation, hangings and summary executions. A former inmate, quoted in an Amnesty report earlier this year, described it as “the worse place on earth”.

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The Guardian view on securing the internet: collective action needed | Editorial

Sun, 14 May 2017 17:59:33 GMT2017-05-14T17:59:33Z

The NHS cyberhack owes something to scarce resources, but it’s the fault of the software manufacturers and national agencies too

Europol and the NHS are both warning people going back to work after the weekend to start up their computer with care. The cyber-attack on the UK health service, which also brought down systems in at least 150 countries, is an illustration of the vulnerability of the networks and software on which societies and economies now depend. In an ironical twist, it appears that the unknown writers of the “WannaCry” malware had themselves left a security hole in their creation, which allowed the attack to be halted once their mistake was discovered.

We do not yet know how much damage WannaCry caused. People may have died; trauma units have been shut down and operations postponed. The attack serves, among other things, as a warning that nothing and nowhere is really secure.

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The Democrats' Davos ideology won't win back the midwest | Thomas Frank

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 21:21:10 GMT2017-04-27T21:21:10Z

The party has harmed millions of their own former constituents. If they change course, they can reverse their losses

The tragedy of the 2016 election is connected closely, at least for me, to the larger tragedy of the industrial midwest. It was in the ruined industrial city of Cleveland that the Republican Party came together in convention last July, and it was the deindustrialized, addiction-harrowed precincts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin that switched sides in November and delivered Donald Trump to the Oval Office.

I am a midwesterner too, and I like to think I share the values and outlook of that part of the country. I have spent many of the last 15 years trying to understand my region’s gradual drift to the political right. And I have spent the last three weeks driving around the deindustrialized midwest, visiting 13 different cities to talk about the appeal of Donald Trump and what ails the Democratic Party. I met labor leaders and progressive politicians; average people and rank-and-file union members; senior citizens and Millennials; sages and cranks.

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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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The week in patriarchy: holocaust centers and other horrors | Jessica Valenti

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 18:12:38 GMT2017-04-14T18:12:38Z

There were plenty of terrible things that happened this week, but I’d like to focus on one that got too little attention: the San Bernardino shooting

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When you’re trying to summarize a week’s worth of news in the age of Trump, it’s hard to know what to include. From mega-bombs in Afghanistan to “Holocaust centers”, there’s never a lack of horrors to relay. But instead of getting lost in the fray, I want to focus on one thing that happened this week that isn’t getting nearly the attention it deserves: the shooting in San Bernardino, California.

This was a domestic violence killing that left one woman, an elementary school teacher and her student dead. Most mass shootings in the United States are domestic violence attacks, yet we almost never discuss them as such. The victims deserve better than that.

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Almost everyone gets Russia wrong – apart from Obama | Trevor Timm

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 11:00:31 GMT2016-09-08T11:00:31Z

Those itching for conflict like to portray Putin as a grandmaster. In reality, his country is weak and his strategy is one of desperation

These days it is en vogue in Washington DC to be itching for conflict with Russia. Politicians and pundits alike are outdoing each other for how they can describe the supposed threat Putin now poses to the west. To his credit, Barack Obama seems to be the only politician not playing into the cold war 2.0 hysteria.

In little noticed comments last week, Hillary Clinton suggested that the US should start preparing “military” responses to cyber-attacks allegedly perpetrated by Russia on the DNC and voter registration files. And her campaign has also spent the last few weeks ratcheting up the fear-mongering that the Trump campaign is secretly a Russian plant of some sort.

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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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