My parents brought me to London when I was two years old, seeking refuge from Somalia’s civil war. To guarantee our safety they left behind a home, friends, family and much of what was familiar in the world. Their siblings were scattered. My grandmother and a few of her daughters found homes together in Canada. Some of my uncles came to the UK before we did. Other relatives went to the United States, settling in Minnesota where today a large Somali community thrives. Had my aunt and other Somali-Americans made that journey today they would have been barred from entering the US twice over – for being refugees and for coming from Somalia.
The despair in the weeks following the election has now turned into constructive rage. Opposition – more precisely, oppositions – are forming, not only in the general population, but inside the government itself, as is evident from the cascade of leaks and rogue tweets. One can only speculate what is happening in the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, but the reaction to Trump’s characterization of the CIA as 'Nazis' and his appalling speech about the size of his inauguration crowd in front of their memorial to fallen agents was plain. Moreover, in a move at first barely noticed in the general chaos, Trump removed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of National Intelligence from the Principals Circle of the National Security Council and replaced them with Steve Bannon, the white nationalist who has become Trump’s Cheney, co-wrote the 'America First' inauguration speech, and was the architect of the current Muslim ban. There is a probable impending major crisis with North Korea – probably graver than anything in the Middle East – and Trump’s fascination with nuclear weapons is well known. A military coup is no longer unimaginable in the USA: Trump calling for a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pyongyang and the spooks and brass rising against him.
Jeremy Harding · Benoît Hamon
After the second round of voting this weekend, Benoît Hamon has won the Socialist Party candidature for the French presidential elections. He already had the edge over his rival, the former prime minister Manuel Valls, in round one of the primaries. With Valls you always knew what you were going to get come the vote in March: total defeat. Hamon is not tipped to make it past round one either, but it would be wrong for the Vallsistes to tell themselves that their man was the realistic option. Valls's association with Hollande's disappointing term – Hollande had a popularity rating of 4 per cent last year – would have been a killer. Besides, in the unlikely event of the French electorate wanting another socialist president, it would vote for the genuine article. Valls is a New Labour lookalike.
I travelled to Egypt two weeks ago and arrived home at JFK on Saturday, 28 January, around noon. I am from Iran and have been a US citizen since 2015. Last summer, returning from Europe, the electronic passport machine let me straight through. This time however the machine didn't let me through and I had to stand in line to see a Customs and Border Protection officer. For the fifteen minutes I was waiting, I didn't see a single white person among us. The line of US citizens denied automatic entry were all, without exception, black and brown people who predominantly seemed Muslim. In front of me was a Muslim Indian man who had lived in the US for over ten years. Behind me was a Muslim Sudanese-American woman who was back from visiting her family in Sudan.
With an executive order signed on Friday, President Trump began implementing the ‘extreme vetting’ of Muslims he promised during his campaign. All refugees are now barred from entering the US for 120 days. Syrian refugees face an indefinite ban. For 90 days, all entry has been suspended for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Yesterday, it was confirmed that the ban on entry includes people with green cards who happened to be out of the US when the order was signed. They cannot return home.
The fentanyl crisis in British Columbia continues unabated. There were 128 overdose deaths in November, the worst month on record until December’s figures were released this week: 142 deaths. There were nine fatal overdoses in Vancouver on the night of 15 December alone. Last year, 914 people died in the province from illicit drug overdoses, an increase of 80 per cent on the previous year. (The problem isn’t restricted to Canada. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ‘the death rate of synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes drugs such as tramadol and fentanyl, increased by 72.2 per cent’ in the United States between 2014 and 2015. In 2013, more than 2000 people died from opiate overdose in the UK.)
Ann Coulter has been Donald Trump’s outspoken champion since he launched his campaign. In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!, her book that came out last summer, was more of a manifesto than anything Trump has written himself (that said, I’m not sure he’s ever written anything himself). ‘The only guy whose personal life sounds fascinating is Trump and he never discusses it,’ she wrote. ‘He was too busy talking about building a wall, renegotiating bad trade deals and ending our insane Muslim immigration policies.’ She said yesterday that the cost of building the wall along the US-Mexican border would be ‘roughly equal to one year's worth of therapy, hospital costs of little girls raped by illegal immigrants’. She is a monster.
Tam Dalyell, who served as the Labour MP for West Lothian (later Linlithgow) from 1962 to 2005, died yesterday. In 1982 he resigned as Michael Foot's science spokesman over the Falklands War. He wrote a number of pieces for the LRB, the first of them 'A Falklands Polemic' in May 1982: 'Never underestimate the importance of fortuitous timing in the development of events. Governments and nations can get onto a motorway, and then find to their alarm that they are on a journey on which they never intended to travel, but from which there is no acceptable exit. We are faced with a shooting war in the South Atlantic that few British politicians thought could, should or would occur.'
In the last month Theresa May has given striking evidence of a tilt towards Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel. On 29 December, her spokesman sharply criticised a major speech by John Kerry, who was signing off after years of labouring for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He had told some home truths about the Netanyahu government, describing the current coalition as the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements. Asked by the BBC whether he was surprised by May’s reaction, Kerry said: ‘What I expressed in the speech has been the policy of Great Britain for a long period of time … An honest answer is yes.’
'I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence,' the president of the United States said on ABC News last night, 'and I asked them the question: "Does it work? Does torture work?" And the answer was: "Yes, absolutely." … Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.' In Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation, Shane O'Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin, argues that 'torture is as ineffective as it is abhorrent.'
If the left didn’t find a constructive policy to tackle Britain’s economic problems at root, Leonard Woolf warned in the Political Quarterly in autumn 1931, the right would go on ‘triumphing until it has created conditions which almost inevitably result in violent revolution’. A global slump, soaring unemployment and a run on the pound had brought about the resignation of Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour Cabinet in August, swiftly followed by the formation of the emergency, cross-party National Government, which immediately pushed massive spending cuts through Parliament.
The consensus among the European tourists interviewed by the international press at Banjul airport last week was that their evacuation from Gambia was an overreaction. ‘We just think it’s overkill,’ a man in holiday clothes said confidently. ‘Nothing will actually happen, Mr Jammeh will go, he’s using it as a bargaining tool, and it will be done peacefully.’ He shrugged. A woman with sunburnt skin widened her eyes. ‘In the hotel, everything was OK,’ she said. It was only on the transfer to the airport that they had seen people were leaving. During the first weeks of January, as the outgoing president, Yahya Jammeh, refused to relinquish office, tens of thousands of Gambians left the country, bracing themselves for conflict. Regional troops gathered at the border.
The queue to get onto the train at Howard University subway station stretched all the way up the stairs and onto the street. As I approached, women began to turn around, looking at us and shaking their heads: ‘Don’t bother.’ I decided to walk the two miles to the National Mall. Washington DC is hard to navigate; it is laid out in a series of pinwheels designed to be difficult to invade, and many areas are geoblocked, turning the map on my phone into a blank. But there was only one direction that anyone was walking. Protesters held signs and wore ‘pussy hats’; pink, mostly handmade, with points on the top like cat ears. A lot of us were carrying clear plastic backpacks with granola bars and bottles of water; fabric bags weren’t allowed because they are too easy to hide a bomb in.
On Thursday, Wayne Barrett died of lung disease in Manhattan. He had written about Trump's business dealings for decades, mostly for the Village Voice, and for his book Trump: The Deals and the Downfall (1992), a portrait of a man who got ahead because of his willingness, at every stage of his career, to screw over anyone foolish enough to trust him. It was reissued last year as Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention.
‘First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.’ That was how Colin Powell described the battle plan he and his generals came up with for the war they were about to wage against Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991, and that is, more or less, what happened. After the US A-10 tank-buster bombers known as Warthogs had finished off the Iraqi armoured brigades on the Basra Road, Harold Pinter, disgusted by the gratuitous carnage, wrote a poem called ‘American Football’. He sent it to several publications, including the London Review of Books, where I then worked. He had it faxed to the paper's office on Tavistock Square. None of the editors much liked the poem, but because it was by Pinter there was some further deliberation, and as the afternoon ended we thought we'd defer the decision to the following morning.
As King Ubu from Queens makes ready to take the presidential oath of office, assuming the ‘leadership of the free world’ and the computer codes that unlock America’s nuclear arsenal, the Pollyanna in me would like to remind those hiding in their basements with an eight-year supply of protein powder and Green Giant corn niblets that when Ronald Reagan took office at noon on 20 January 1981, the prospect of an extremely right-wing B-movie actor and longtime shill for General Electric entering the White House was hardly less surreal and unnerving than what we face now. True, Reagan had served two terms as governor of California (1967-75), but we here in the Golden State are still digging ourselves out from under them 42 years later, during which time vast sums of money have been transferred from the state’s resources for health, infrastructure, education etc. to the wealthiest 5 per cent of individuals.
His Royal Highness the Prince Charles Arthur Philip George, Prince of Wales and nob of much else, has written a Ladybird book on climate change. Naturally, as with other tasks such as brushing one’s teeth and providing one's urine sample, this is not a feat the dauphin has pulled off solo. He’s roped in Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey for a spot of authorial toothpaste-squirting and flask-holding. Penguin, which owns Ladybird, apparently tapped seven specialists to wrestle with the 5000-word spider-written MS in order, as Roland White of Penguin put it, to 'amend some of the more assertive language to ensure it was bulletproof'.
Antonio Tajani, a former spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, was elected president of the European Parliament yesterday. He dedicated his victory to the people who died in the earthquake in central Italy last August. At 10.25 this morning, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck not far from Amatrice. There have been three more of equivalent size in the hours since (and 200 of magnitude 2 or above): an unprecedented phenomenon.
‘We’re leaving,’ my Cuban friend N. told me in November. ‘We’re building a raft.’ I was shocked, partly because he planned to leave, partly because of the way he planned to do it. I consulted another friend, who’d spent several months in a coastguard team, hauling people out of the water when their rafts fell apart. ‘He’s mad,’ he said. ‘He mustn’t do it. Hardly any of them make it, it’s far too dangerous.’ I spoke to N. to try to dissuade him; he was unconvinced. He’d just had a phone call from Miami: a young neighbour had left a week or two before, the raft had reached the Everglades and some Miami-Cuban fisherman had spotted them and shown them where to land. They’d made it.
‘Can you speak Russian? No? So why go to the theatre when you can’t understand a word?’ My challenger (English) was incredulous that I’d asked one of the Russian helpers on the British Council tour, whose mother had been a principal dancer with the Kirov, to find me, if at all possible, a ticket to a play. There was a performance of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, she’d told me. The legendary Alla Demidova would be performing; the director was Kirill Serebrennikov, a daring force in the Russian avant-garde; and it would be taking place in the Gogol Centre, a former warehouse designed in industrial cool with gorgeous Constructivist lettering that makes the word Гоголь look like the limbs of an Alexandra Exter puppet.
‘Russia is a mental subcontinent, the subconscious of the West. This is why we place our fears, our phobias and foibles in Russia,’ a character says in Zinovy Zinik’s novel Sounds Familiar or The Beast of Artek. The book, published last summer, explores the way the Kremlin Menace can loom to a monstrous size in the Western imagination. A timely subject, given the way the debate around Donald Trump's admiration of Vladimir Putin has morphed into a grotesque tale of Putin playing puppet-master in the US election – complete, according to a recently leaked 'unverified' report, with candid camera footage of Trump enjoying golden showers in the Moscow Ritz and secret meetings between the Kremlin and Trump's team in Prague (home of the Golem).
At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stanley Kubrick was living in England. He decided that it was not safe there and he should move his family to Australia. Since he refused to fly commercially, he booked passage on a boat. But when he found that he would have to share the bathroom facilities with a neighbouring cabin he cancelled the whole thing, preferring to take his chances with the bomb.
Martin McGuinness stepped down yesterday as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. His resignation letter rapped the Democratic Unionist Party for backing austerity and blocking women’s and LGBT rights, and attacked the first minister, Arlene Foster, for refusing to stand down temporarily while an independent inquiry is conducted into a botched renewable energy scheme. The scandal, known as ‘cash for ash’, began in 2013 when a whistleblower pointed out what was happening as a result of Renewable Heat Incentive subsidies not being capped. Farms and businesses that signed up to the scheme before it was shut down last year get £1.60 from the government for every pound spent on non-fossil fuels, without limit. The more wood they burn, the more money they make. One farmer is set to net a million quid over twenty years by heating an empty shed.
Mohammed Yassar Yaqub, a 27-year-old man from Huddersfield, was killed last Monday during a ‘pre-planned policing operation’. Reports of his death suggest that the car Yaqub was travelling in on the M62 was ‘hard stopped’ by firearms officers: the police ambushed the car, boxing it in and immediately drawing their weapons. The few images of the scene which have circulated in the past week show several bullet holes in the car’s windscreen. How Yaqub died is pretty clear. To learn why will take some time.
I first met Derek Parfit the summer I was 19, when my college boyfriend and I spent a day visiting Oxford. Parfit’s Reasons and Persons was the only thing written by a living person on our first-year philosophy syllabus at Yale. Passing All Souls College, we went to the porter’s lodge and asked, absurdly, if we could see him. The porter said Parfit was teaching a seminar in the Old Library. We stood outside the door, pressing our ears to it, hearing nothing but murmurs, debating whether or not to go in. Eventually the seminar ended and people started to file out. Realising we had no idea what Parfit looked like, we asked every man leaving the room if he was Derek Parfit. They all laughed: they must have been twenty-something graduate students. Finally, out came a man with a mane of white hair and a bright red tie tucked into his trousers, wielding a large Smirnoff vodka bottle. We introduced ourselves.
Derek Parfit died on 1 January. Bernard Williams reviewed Reasons and Persons when it came out in 1984: 'Derek Parfit has written a brilliantly clever and imaginative book which treats in a very original way a wide range of ethical questions. It spends virtually no time on meta-ethics (perhaps too little), but it avoids many of the deformations that sometimes afflict first-order ethical philosophy.'
John Berger died yesterday. Reviewing his selected essays in the LRB in 2002, Peter Wollen wrote: Berger, despite his concentrated seriousness, is quite capable of breaking out of the box, seeing things in unexpected new ways, becoming excited by the unusual and the perverse and the eccentric, bringing a pungent subjectivity to the most delicate of judgments.
Last night's episode of Sherlock on BBC1 – spoiler alert – was the third piece of prestige TV I've watched in as many months to conclude with the self-sacrificial death of the superpowered lone female member of a gang of outsider heroes.