breaking news from the world of ideas

by James Billot
Monday, 25
October 2021

Barack Obama gives up on a united America

The former president has given up any pretence of a post-partisan USA

There was once a time when Barack Obama dreamt of leading a post-racial, post-partisan America. Back in 2004, the then Senate candidate famously declared: “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is a United States of America.” This was no doubt a sincerely held belief, and one that he ran with during his presidential run three years later: “I don’t want to pit red America against blue America. I want to be the president of the United States of America.”

Then, reality intervened. Obama left office as the most polarising president in history (before the arrival of you-know-who), with virtually all of his major achievements coming from party-line votes or executive actions. By his own admission, he failed: “There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.” ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Monday, 18
October 2021

Anger and resignation at Green Pass protests in Italy

Protestors at this weekend's demonstrations in Milan had little hope

Milan, Italy.

“Giu le mani dai bambini” (“Keep your hands off the children”)

“Educare alla libertà” (“Educate for freedom”)

“Studianti e operai nella lotta contro il green pass” (“Students and workers in the fight against the green pass”)

These were some of the slogans on display at this weekend’s anti-green pass protests in Milan, Italy. Protests were nationwide, but here at the Arco della Pace an unusual cross-section of students, blue collar workers and parents had marched through the gates of the Castello Sforzesco to make one last stand against the green passes.

As speakers expressed solidarity with striking port workers in the cities of Trieste, Genoa and Ancona, flags of European countries were placed in the middle of the square to illustrate that this movement was international. Speeches were fiery, short and energising, focusing on the arbitrary expansion of government power, infringement on workers’ rights and fears over what kind of precedent the green pass was setting for their children.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 15
September 2021

Norm Macdonald: the only comedian to survive Trump

He managed to outlive the great death of comedy of the post-2016 era

Donald Trump’s victory in 2016 was not a victory for comedy. Almost overnight, late night-talk show hosts became political pundits; stand-up comics metamorphosed into preachers; and once-hilarious film stars turned into the goons they were supposed to be mocking. With one exception, the worst thing to come out of it was a genre of Resistance comedy, in which Twitter stars lip-synced the president on Twitter to online adulation. 

By 2017, even the almost irreverent South Park creators admitted they were struggling:

If you have like a little monkey and it’s running himself into the wall over and over and you’re like, ‘That’s funny, but how am I gonna make fun of the monkey running himself into the wall?’ I can discuss the monkey running himself into the wall, I can copy the monkey running into the wall, but nothing’s funnier than the monkey just running himself into the wall.
- Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Another comedian agreed. “Trump is doing self-parody. Nothing looks dumber than parodying self-parody”.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 1
September 2021

How judges are weaponising vaccines

The criminal justice system turns to public health concerns

Refusing to take a vaccine in America comes at a heavy price. In the land of the free, you can lose access to international travel, your job, your place at university, and now, even your child.

This week, a Chicago judge ruled that the mother of an 11-year-old could no longer see her son because she was not vaccinated against Covid-19.

According to mother Rebecca Firlit, her vaccination status was not raised as an issue by her ex-husband in their child support hearing, but the judge decided that she posed a big enough health risk to her son that no physical contact would be granted. Until yesterday (when the decision was reversed), Firlit was only allowed to talk to her son on the phone. “I talk to him every day,” Firlit said, “He cries, he misses me. I send him care packages.” ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 12
August 2021

The Greens choose trans over trees

The party's relentless focus on identity issues will come at an electoral cost

The British Green Party should be flying high right now. For decades the party has been warning about a looming climate crisis, the results of which are now grimly playing out.

Politically, Boris Johnson’s mixed record in office and Keir Starmer’s lacklustre leadership have left an opening for challenger parties. And having secured nearly a million votes in the 2019 election and a record number of council seats in this year’s local elections, this could be the Greens’ moment.

And yet in the polls, the Greens are still on single digits, languishing below the Liberal Democrats. The party is also leaderless, following the resignations of its two co-leaders last month.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 20
May 2021

Joe Biden is more Ronald Reagan than FDR

Both have bumbling, grandfatherly public personas, which they use to full effect

This week, a clip has been circulating of Joe Biden driving away after a reporter questioned him about Israel. Here is an excerpt of the conversation:

“Mr President, can I ask you a quick question about Israel before you drive away because it’s so important?”

“No, you can’t. Not unless you get in front of the car as I step on it! I’m only teasing… Ok here we go – you ready?”

“Let’s see it sir!”

What is revealing about this interaction isn’t Biden threatening to run over a journalist (he is obviously joking) or even his ducking of the question. It is the behaviour of the journalists, who swoon and coo at the sight of a 78-year-old man speeding off in an electric pick-up. More peculiar still is the applause that follows, with one particularly awestruck reporter muttering “that’s fantastic”. ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Thursday, 29
April 2021

How Democrats can increase support among moderates

New research shows that even their own voters don't like it

Are Democrats too woke for voters? It’s a charge that’s often levelled at the party from outside – and within. Most recently, former Bill Clinton adviser and Democratic strategist James Carville accused the Democrats of using “faculty language” that alienated ordinary voters. Suggesting that using terms like “Latinx” was “not how people talk”, Carville said that race needed to be addressed through a different lens:

We have to talk about race. We should talk about racial injustice. What I’m saying is, we need to do it without using jargon-y language that’s unrecognizable to most people — including most Black people, by the way — because it signals that you’re trying to talk around them. This “too cool for school” shit doesn’t work, and we have to stop it.
- James Carville, Vox

Carville isn’t the only one. A few days ago, former Democratic senator and presidential candidate and Tulsi Gabbard implored Americans to “please stop the racialisation of everyone and everything”.  ...  Continue reading

by James Billot
Wednesday, 24
February 2021

Cameron and Blair united against extremism? What could go wrong?

The two former PMs have given their blessing to a new terrorism report

Extremists are gaining the upper hand” booms today’s Times editorial by Sara Khan, the commissioner to counter extremism and Sir Mark Rowley, former head of counter-terrorism policing. The pair argue that the UK should take a ‘tougher line on extremism’ with legislation that eliminates the gap in our laws between terrorism, which is already illegal, and extremist activity that ‘stops short of the definition of terrorism’.

The editorial is the latest in a long line of articles and think pieces calling for tougher action on online extremism. But what gives this one an added punch is that it has received the blessing of two former prime ministers, David Cameron and Tony Blair, and faith leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. ...  Continue reading