breaking news from the world of ideas

by Bethany Elliott
Tuesday, 28
March 2023

Wagner Group convict-soldiers start returning to Russia

Over 50,000 prisoners accepted a six-month tour in exchange for freedom

“Now prisoners will come back home and two Russias will look each other in the eye,” wrote Russian poet Anna Akhmatova of the release of Gulag inmates. Seventy years later, Russia is once again grappling with the issue of how to handle a mass return of its imprisoned. 

Last September, footage emerged of the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, touring Russian prisons, offering inmates the chance of a pardon in return for six months of frontline duty in Ukraine. While the prisoner recruitment programme has now been halted, approximately 50,000 had accepted the offer by mid-February, according to US government estimates, with around 30,000 injured and 9,000 dead.  ...  Continue reading

by Ralph Schoellhammer
Tuesday, 28
March 2023

Germany facing largest strikes in decades

Economic hardship and opposition to green policies have created a perfect storm

If Germany and France are the two pillars of European integration, the EU has stormy times ahead. Paris and other major French cities have been roiled by protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, leading to, among other things, the cancellation of a planned state visit by Charles III due to security concerns. 

The ongoing cost-of-living crisis that started 14 months ago is now beginning to trickle from the economic realm to the political, and it could turn ugly for those in power. After an unexpected victory for the Farmer-Citizen Movement — only founded in 2019 — in the recent Dutch provincial elections, as well as the troubles in France, Germany could be next on the list. ...  Continue reading

by Oliver Bateman
Tuesday, 28
March 2023

The Nashville shooting will intensify America’s culture wars

Both Left and Right were quick to pounce on the perpetrator's motives

This week America experienced its 13th school shooting of the calendar year, keeping the nation of 332 million people and 350 million firearms on pace to exceed last year’s tally of 51. The latest shooting occurred at the Covenant School, a small Christian academy in Nashville. Using two assault weapons and a handgun, shooter Audrey Hale —  female at birth, but now using “he/him” pronouns along with the name “Aiden” in some online profiles — killed three 9-year-old children, the school’s custodian, the head of school, and a substitute teacher.  

At the time of this writing, it is still too early to ascertain Hale’s motivations. Officials claim a manifesto exists, as do detailed maps that helped Hale, a former student of the school, execute her plan with a high degree of efficiency. This particular incident is unique by U.S. standards: of the 135 mass shootings (defined as a single attack in a public place in which four or more victims were killed) that have occurred since 1982, only three were carried out by women (although commentator Wesley Yang noted that referring to Hale as such constitutes “misgendering” her). ...  Continue reading

by Joan Smith
Tuesday, 28
March 2023

Scottish result spells gender trouble for Keir Starmer

Humza Yousaf's election will reignite tensions within the Labour Party

At first sight, just over 26,000 voters have delivered a gift to Labour this week. That was the tally for Humza Yousaf, easily the weakest candidate in the SNP leadership election, who had to rely on second preferences to defeat his rivals. The then-justice minister unaccountably failed to win outright in the first round despite having wooed women members by holding up a giant pink heart

Yousaf’s election as First Minister today should be an open goal for Labour. He supports Nicola Sturgeon’s unpopular gender reforms and one of his first actions was to announce that he intends to challenge the UK Government’s decision to veto the legislation. Pink hearts and men who claim to be women — poor old Scotland is now in the hands of a captured dinosaur. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 28
March 2023

Why are Americans dying so young?

US life expectancy is falling well behind Europe

Most of us Brits realise that the US is richer than the UK. But just how much richer still has the power to shock. In 2021, American GDP per capita was $69,185 while the mother country got by on just $46,542. In fact, viewed state by state, America is richer than almost all of Europe. Only special cases like Norway, Denmark and Switzerland do better. 

However, before European readers feel too inferior, there’s a twist in the tale — despite their superior wealth, American lifespans are significantly shorter. In fact, as the above chart from NPR shows, the longevity gap between the US and comparable countries is widening. ...  Continue reading

by Tom McTague
Monday, 27
March 2023

Humza Yousaf is good news for the Union

The new SNP leader is an example of the UK's strength

Welcome to racist, Terf Island Britain, where a practising Hindu is Prime Minister and a practising Muslim is now on his way to becoming First Minister of Scotland. For all Britain’s problems today — and there are many, no doubt still including racism in parts of our national life — it is hard not to marvel at the country’s emergence as perhaps the most successful multiethnic democracy on earth. Even more marvellous than this, however, is how little anybody seems to care.

When Rishi Sunak was elected Prime Minister last year, his elevation seemed to throw some commentators off guard, particularly those in the US. For those like Trevor Noah, for example, who had spent so long likening Brexit to Donald Trump, it seemed the only way to make sense of Sunak’s election was to claim it had sparked a non-existent “backlash”. Today, however, the election of 37-year-old Humza Yousaf as the first person of colour to lead the Scottish National Party has caused a similar level of indifference, just as Sadiq Khan’s did in London. When it comes to Yousaf, what people really care about is not his ethnicity but whether he will be successful in his bid to break up the UK. ...  Continue reading

by Philip Pilkington
Monday, 27
March 2023

French protests threaten to spill into Europe

The cost-of-living crisis is hurting the whole continent

Shocking scenes emerged this weekend from Sainte-Soline, a rural district in Western France. Police vehicles burned as protestors hurled rocks and fireworks. At one point, police officers on quad bikes used what appeared to be light mobilised infantry tactics against the protesters, who opposed the building of a large water reservoir to be used for farm irrigation. 

The clashes in Sainte-Soline come after similar scenes across the rest of France. Two weeks ago riots broke out on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, with 120 arrested after a night of violence and chaos. These protests were not due to waterworks, but because President Emmanuel Macron announced that the retirement age was to be raised from 62 to 64. ...  Continue reading

by Ashley Rindsberg
Monday, 27
March 2023

Is this the last gasp of Israel’s secular Left?

The ultra-Orthodox community is now in the ascendancy

For the past few months, the world has watched as Israel has faced mounting domestic turmoil. On the face of it, the mass protest movement that has formed in response to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is aimed at preventing an overhaul of the court system that seeks to reform the traditionally powerful Israeli judiciary. But there is a much deeper trend at play: the electoral rise of the country’s ultra-Orthodox population.

The question of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, or “Haredim” in Hebrew, has long been the third rail of Israeli politics. The ultra-Orthodox community has traditionally served as a stop-gap in Israeli governing coalitions, presenting as a willing quid-pro-quo partner that could fill out a coalition with the requisite seats needed to form a government. The exchange was simple: the coalition takes care of a few key demands by ultra-Orthodox parties, like the funding of state-sponsored yeshivas or centres of religious study, and the ultra-Orthodox parties offer a willing vote on most issues. ...  Continue reading

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