On the ‘Baghdad Bulletin’

The 'Baghdad Bulletin' being printed in 2003.

The ‘Baghdad Bulletin’ being printed in 2003.

‘Tomorrow, are you ready to die?’ Fadil asked me. He was the chain-smoking owner of the hotel in Jordan I stayed at 13 years ago, soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein. I was 22, had just finished university and was waiting for a ride across the desert to Baghdad, where I would begin working for Iraq’s first postwar English language newspaper, the Baghdad Bulletin. I wasn’t ready to die and thought I should maybe go home, but gave a watery smile, took a gulp of Fanta and fixed my eyes on the flickering TV, tuned to CNN. More »

In Philadelphia

At its most rabid, the Republican National Convention resembled a witch burning. The Democrats in Philadelphia, when they take aim at Donald Trump, do so in the form of a sanctimonious anti-bullying public service announcement. This didn’t work for his Republican rivals during the primaries, but they were talking to Republicans, who may see bullying as a fact of life, feel a bit bullied themselves, and indeed nominated the candidate who sold himself as a national bully. The Democrats ask, do you want your children looking up to a president who’s a bully? Children are ever part of the equation in Philadelphia. More »

England, Secede!

One way round the legal problems posed by Brexit might be to mould it on the EU’s current relationship with the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. I grew up in, or on, Jersey (more on the preposition soon). It’s an odd place, for which the term ‘insular’, if anything, understates its inverted-telescope worldview. Jersey people can tell if someone comes from elsewhere in Britain in two ways. One is that they say ‘on’ rather than ‘in’ Jersey, which irks locals because it suggests, accurately enough, that the place is a windblasted reef jutting from the surf. The other is that they refer to Britain as ‘the mainland’ – because, for Jersey people, the mainland is Jersey. This helps make Jersey a microcosm of the attitudes that ‘Fog in Channel: Continent Isolated’ Englanders hold towards Albion, and a propitious model for its constitutional future. More »

Border Crossings

The Guardian obituary of Brian White, the Belfast man who served honourably but briefly as a Labour MP, included a reminder that there was a time – not too long ago – when the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom resembled, at times, the type of border that people have been suggesting, post-Brexit, might exist between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In 1974, during the earliest phase of the so-called Troubles, when the Prevention of Terrorism Act was used as a control on travel between these two parts of the UK, the 17-year-old White was asked for his passport at Heathrow on arriving from Belfast. ‘This isn’t the Soviet Union,’ he said, ‘we don’t have gulags here.’

Another traveller whose sensibilities were similarly exercised during this period was Seamus Heaney, More »

Erdoğan’s Voices

To outsiders, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can appear to be a tub-thumping, monologic rabble-rouser, but he isn’t, or not quite. Childishly proud of having attended one of the Imam Hatip (preacher training) schools that were once a marginal but are now a central part of the educational landscape, he was also a semi-professional footballer; he can talk down to strangers and shout across at teammates.

As the coup attempt unfolded in the early hours of Saturday 16 July and some of his teammates failed him, Erdoğan’s face appeared in public for the first time in six days – he was on holiday – on an iPhone held by a presenter on CNN Türk; with as much calm as he could muster, he appealed to his people to go out on the streets, confront the rebels and save democracy. Two hours later, at Atatürk Airport, flanked by his entourage and confident that he wouldn’t be deposed, he was more expansive, calling the coup a ‘gift from God’ and outlining plans for retribution. More »

If EU workers left the NHS…

As well as enough money to build a new hospital every week post-Brexit, the Leave campaign promised to relieve the NHS of the pressure it is put under by ‘health tourism’ and the arrival in Britain of hundreds of thousands of public-service-hungry migrants each year. It now seems the NHS is as unlikely to benefit from restrictions on EU immigration to Britain as it is to receive an extra £350 million a week. The amount that would be saved by not treating EU migrants would make no dent in the NHS’s financial problems, while a lack of EU workers would mean fewer staff on overworked NHS wards. More »

Cleveland, Day Four

America is a disastrous hellhole teeming with criminal non-citizens who steal jobs when they aren’t killing innocent young girls, but on 20 January 2017 it will transmogrify into a tranquil, terror and alien-free manufacturing dynamo, with assault rifles available to all, upon the inauguration of President Trump: that was the simple message delivered at great length on Thursday night. Trump confirmed that for all the cartoonish sideshows attending his campaign, he’s essentially a one-issue candidate, and that issue is immigration. ‘Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,’ he said, and you expected him to list every one. The crowd chanted ‘Build a wall!’ Ancillary issues were touched on — the murder of police, shabby schools, crumbling roads, taxes in need of cutting, even African-American youth unemployment and Latino poverty — but they all fed back somehow to an evil trinity of globalism, defined as mass immigration of criminals riding on the wings of terror and bad trade deals. ‘Americanism, not globalism, will be our credo,’ he said, promising to repudiate something that all other national leaders of recent memory have treated as an inexorable and desirable force of history. More »

Cleveland, Day Three

It’s strange to be in a bar where the coolest guy is Newt Gingrich. The Westin Hotel is the headquarters of Team Trump, and its shock troops were outside smoking Cuban cigars and reminiscing about their efforts to win the Indiana primary, the contest that at last vanquished Ted Cruz. The delegates and GOP operatives at the bar not lining up for selfies with Newt felt the Tuesday proceedings had been an improvement on Monday in that none of the speakers seemed candidates for being sectioned. I was disappointed by the absence of Roger Stone, the former Nixon dirty trickster and longtime Trump confidant, who had been holding court the night before. Stone began his career at age 16 on Nixon’s 1968 campaign. He smeared the opponent, Hubert Humphrey, by making a donation to his campaign in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance and giving the receipt to the Manchester Union-Leader. He is also a longtime business partner, in the international political consulting racket (speciality: Eurasian dictators and elected Putin clients), of Paul Manafort, who has emerged as the Cromwell to Trump’s Henry VIII. More »

‘That Thing’s Coming Down Today’

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John C. Calhoun, without a shackled black slave at his feet.

When I started my freshman year at Yale, in 2003, Locals 34 and 35 – the unions that represent Yale’s clerical, maintenance, custodial and food service workers – were on strike. As I moved into my dorm on Old Campus, I crossed a picket line. We all did. Some workers held up signs saying: ‘You should have gone to Harvard.’ There were no meals served in the dining halls; Yale gave us cash to eat out. Each morning we were woken up by chanting outside our neo-neo-Gothic windows: ‘What do we want? A CONTRACT! When do we want it? NOW!’ Early on we were addressed by the undergraduate dean, who cautioned us (after some stirring words about our being the best and the brightest) not to be in any rush to take sides on the current labour dispute – we had plenty of time, four blissful years, to think and reflect. It is widely recognised that Yale, the biggest employer in New Haven, Connecticut (the poorest city in the richest state) has the worst labour relations of any major university in the US; this strike was the eighth since 1968. Some freshmen ignored the dean’s advice and joined the strike, but the general mood, I remember, was one of entitled disgruntlement. Eventually a contract was agreed, the workers went back to work, and we started eating our meals in the dining halls.  More »

Cleveland, Day Two

‘Fragments were used,’ Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said of Melania Trump’s plagiarised Monday night speech. It was a Tuesday morning press conference, and Manafort, chief bulldog of Trump’s vintage Nixonian thug braintrust, was ceding no ground. ‘Obviously Michelle Obama feels similar things about her family. The American people focused on her message. You people are trying to distort that message. The plagiarism charge was first spread by the Clinton campaign. Whenever Hillary feels threatened by a woman she tries to destroy her.’ Melaniagate occupied the day’s news cycle even though no one would expect her to write her own speech or to say what she actually thinks. Whether anyone cares what she actually thinks is another question. More »

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