Peace in Colombia?

The new peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was signed in Bogotá’s Colón Theatre on 24 November. It was a more sober ceremony than the extravagant signing of the first agreement in Cartagena on 26 September, a week before Colombians narrowly voted against it in a referendum. The second signing was a closed event, and only President Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc commander, Timochenko, gave speeches. A subdued group of Colombians in the main plaza in Bogotá watched it on a big screen. The right-wing TV channel RCN, meanwhile, held a panel featuring only figures opposed to the deal, for ‘balance’. More »

Derailing the NHS

On 17 October 2000, four people were killed and 70 injured in the Hatfield rail crash. A high speed train derailed because of metal fatigue in a section of track that had been tagged for replacement months earlier. Railtrack, the company which had managed the permanent way since British Rail was privatised in 1994, never recovered. In 2001 it went bankrupt, more than £3 billion in debt. In October 2002, responsibility for maintaining railway infrastructure was essentially renationalised with the formation of Network Rail. More »

Three Hundred Pounds in Her Pocket

The Sheffield Working Women’s Opportunities Project has reported a steep rise in the number of women starting or returning to sex work in the city. The English Collective of Prostitutes says the pattern repeats itself across the country. ‘Zero hours contracts, benefits sanctions and family care needs’ are among the reasons women give for turning to sex work. More »

Stop Blaming Migrants

What miserable terrain we’re stuck in, post-Brexit vote, as the free trade v. free movement argument is endlessly discussed. Round and round we go, warning that leaving the single market and slapping more controls – we already have plenty – on immigration would harm the economy, but insisting that the public wants one, or both, or neither; who really knows? More »

The Clean Hands Problem

It has been said both that Fidel Castro was a bad man whose henchmen tortured and sometimes killed dissidents, and that Castro was a good man who gave Cuba a healthcare and literacy programme to rival many in the developed world. The BBC, in its quest for ‘balance’, says that people in Havana and Miami (‘only ninety miles away’), which hosts Trump’s only significant Hispanic constituency, are saying these things.

Philosophers chew over the ‘problem of dirty hands’ – thought to arise when a politician does something morally wrong in the name of securing a public good or preventing a public bad. It’s notable that the problem is framed in that way, rather than as one that arises when a politician fails to secure the public good or prevent the bad by avoiding doing something morally wrong – the ‘problem of clean hands’, as it might be called. The notion that actors can acquit themselves of blame often relies on the fantasy that they act in a historical vacuum. More »

Birth of a Nation

The congenial Alain Juppé lost by a huge margin to François Fillon – roughly 66 to 34 – in the French centre-right’s final round of primaries yesterday, which also saw a higher turnout than in round one. The economic policies of the candidates were close: thin down the state sector, loosen labour laws, cut taxes. Fillon’s was the harsher – and more radical – approach but the severity of his social programme was also crucial, and Marine Le Pen will be hard pressed to beat him next year. His is a face we will have to get used to. More »

Fidel Castro

On Castro in the 1950s:

In July 1955, Che Guevara was introduced to Fidel Castro, who was organising a guerrilla invasion of Cuba, with a view to overthrowing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Guevara was soon asked to join the party of insurgents. More »

Outside Trump Tower

209px-trump-tower-3In the subway station at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street you start seeing people holding signs. They move in clusters up or down the stairs to the train, clutching their flaps of cardboard: ‘No Racism’; ‘Immigrants Make America’. Above ground, this strip of Fifth Avenue is empty. Metal fences have been set up by the police along the edge of the pavement, and by 55th street the barriers are concrete. You walk in the middle of the street. Police are everywhere, chests bulging under their blue jackets, making eye contact with one another and giving assessing glances to passersby. The police stand outside Giorgio Armani; the pen of protesters in front of them is separated by the barricades from Dolce & Gabbana: Gucci is in Trump Tower itself. Most of the time now the boutiques are closed. More »

In Corleone

The Hotel Belvedere is on a hillside a kilometre or so south of the Sicilian town of Corleone. The north-facing rooms have expansive views of the town below and the valley below that. The Belvedere shut its doors to tourists in late 2013 after a couple of decades of business; one of its last reviews on TripAdvisor described it as ‘totally empty’, with a ‘stale’ continental breakfast and ‘towels thin enough to read through’. A few months later, the hotel’s fortunes changed. Reopened in 2014 under new management – a co-operative that also runs care homes in Sicily – the hotel became an ‘extraordinary reception centre’ for migrants, one of about 3000 in Italy. More »

Israel’s New Friends

In February, the Israeli prime minister praised the British government for introducing new guidelines prohibiting publicly funded bodies from boycotting Israeli products. ‘I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East,’ Netanyahu said. More »

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