Star-spangled shutdown: how nationalism and nationalization warped US politics


Three new books help us understand how Trump’s spat with Democrats over 1,000th of one percent of the federal budget came to be so weighted with meaning

As I write, the federal government sits in partial shutdown, ostensibly over a measly $3.7bn difference in funding, less than one 1,000th of one percent of the 2019 federal budget, for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Related: It’s the demographics, stupid: party loyalties are shifting as 2020 looms

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The proof that Facebook is broken is obvious from its very modus operandi | John Naughton


Despite employing a small army of contractors to monitor posts, it’s clear the company is no longer fit for purpose

Way back in the 1950s, a pioneering British cybernetician, W Ross Ashby, proposed a fundamental law of dynamic systems. In his book An Introduction to Cybernetics, he formulated his law of requisite variety, which defines “the minimum number of states necessary for a controller to control a system of a given number of states”. In plain English, it boils down to this: for a system to be viable, it has to be able to absorb or cope with the complexity of its environment. And there are basically only two ways of achieving viability in those terms: either the system manages to control (or reduce) the variety of its environment, or it has to increase its internal capacity (its “variety”) to match what is being thrown at it from the environment.

Sounds abstruse, I know, but it has a contemporary resonance. Specifically, it provides a way of understanding some of the current internal turmoil in Facebook as it grapples with the problem of keeping unacceptable, hateful or psychotic content off its platform. Two weeks ago, the New York Times was leaked 1,400 pages from the rulebooks that the company’s moderators are trying to follow as they police the stuff that flows through its servers. According to the paper, the leak came from an employee who said he “feared that the company was exercising too much power, with too little oversight – and making too many mistakes”.

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Katharine Hayhoe: ‘A thermometer is not liberal or conservative’


The award-winning atmospheric scientist on the urgency of the climate crisis and why people are her biggest hope

Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She has contributed to more than 125 scientific papers and won numerous prizes for her science communication work. In 2018 she was a contributor to the US National Climate Assessment and was awarded the Stephen H Schneider award for outstanding climate science communication.

In 2018, we have seen forest fires in the Arctic circle; record high temperatures in parts of Australia, Africa and the US; floods in India; and devastating droughts in South Africa and Argentina. Is this a turning point?
This year has hit home how climate change loads the dice against us by taking naturally occurring weather events and amplifying them. We now have attribution studies that show how much more likely or stronger extreme weather events have become as a result of human emissions. For example, wildfires in the western US now burn nearly twice the area they would without climate change, and almost 40% more rain fell during Hurricane Harvey than would have otherwise. So we are really feeling the impacts and know how much humanity is responsible.

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This is the Nancy Pelosi moment and Donald Trump should be very afraid | Sarah Churchwell


For two years the President has shown disdain for the institutions and practices of governance. Bad move. A new era has just dawned

The Trump White House has frequently been called chaotic, wild, undisciplined, disorderly. But a better word might be “unruly,” because if there’s one thing Donald Trump can’t abide, it’s rules. Not only has the Trump administration signally failed to follow the rules, it’s not clear it ever bothered to learn them. But as the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives last week, that abruptly changed. Trump is about to get schooled in the rules of the game.

For two years, thanks to a Republican Congress that chose not to honor its constitutional duty to maintain oversight of the executive branch, the American political drama has centred on special counsel’s Robert Mueller’s investigation. But that focus is about to widen, as Nancy Pelosi, the once and future Speaker of the House, reclaimed the gavel, promising to show Americans its power: the picture of her smiling as she wielded it went viral, for good reason.

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To stop Brexit, Labour supporters will have to revolt against their leader | Andrew Rawnsley

Freedom to be today European!


Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership with a promise that the will of the members would be paramount

Since nearly all of his career has been spent in rebellion against his own party, I guess we should not be too surprised that Jeremy Corbyn seems so determined to defy it over Brexit. Labour members hate Brexit and they want it reversed. With parliament deadlocked and growing public support for taking the question back to the people, a large majority of Labour voters, and an even larger majority of Labour members, wants the party to throw its weight behind another referendum. Compare and contrast with a Labour leader who doesn’t hate Brexit, doesn’t want it to be reversed and will not help facilitate another referendum if he can possibly avoid it.

That divide between leader and members has been pretty obvious for a long time to anyone who contemplated Mr Corbyn with clear eyes rather than wearing soft-focus lenses. The split has become more evident as the Labour frontbench has run through various tactical ruses to try to mask the tension between its members and its leader. He is what he is and that is a lifetime opponent of the EU. He has not once expressed a flicker of remorse about the result of the 2016 referendum and treats the momentum behind a second referendum not as an opportunity to be seized, but as a threat to be smothered.

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The 11-year-old who started a business to help her furloughed mother


When the government shutdown hit family finances, enterprising Bella Berrellez responded by setting up a company selling organic body scrubs

As the partial federal government shutdown ends its second week, many workers without paychecks, as well as their families, are becoming increasingly worried about their personal finances.

That problem was on the mind of one fifth-grader in Gaithersburg, Maryland (a DC suburb), whose mother was furloughed from her job at the Food and Drug Administration back on 28 December. But instead of complaining, she, like any good entrepreneur, took action: she opened up a business.

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Our out-of-step press demonises desperate refugees | Roy Greenslade


News coverage of a fictional ‘surge’ did not reflect the values of our multicultural society

Where is our humanity? More to the point, where is the compassion that should inform the editorial agendas of our major news outlets?

For the past couple of weeks, in a period we like to call the season of goodwill, Britain’s newspapers and broadcasters have been reporting the arrival of desperate men and women on our shores as if they are criminals unworthy of charity or understanding.

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