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The Observer view on how Facebook’s destructive ethos imperils democracy | Observer editorial

17 March, by Observer editorial[ —]
Our revelations about the harvesting of users’ data show that Mark Zuckerberg’s all-powerful company has little sense of responsibility

Facebook likes to present itself as a tech company, but often appears more like an advertising corporation that happens to use digital technology in order to conduct its core business. The personal information and data trails left by its 2 billion users to construct detailed profiles allows advertisers to send precisely calibrated advertisements to people who are likely to be susceptible to, or persuaded by, them.

Although the original intention was to build an automated machine for delivering commercial messages, it rapidly became clear that the technology could also be used for delivering targeted political messages to voters, and this appears to be what happened in both the Brexit referendum and the 2016 US presidential election. What this meant was that Facebook acquired both political power and serious responsibilities.

Related: Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

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The Guardian view on schools and austerity: more than just a funding crisis | Editorial

16 March, by Editorial[ —]
Underpaid teachers are on the frontline as the impact of cuts to other services is felt in the classroom

When the Conservatives first took Britain down the path of budget austerity in 2010, schools were meant to be protected. George Osborne, chancellor at the time, was confident in the public’s readiness to tolerate most cuts, but even he realised that taking money away from education was toxic.

As with similar promises on NHS spending, the “ring-fence” around the schools budget turns out to be woefully inadequate. Research published on Friday by the Education Policy Institute (EPI), an independent thinktank, finds that a quarter of English secondary schools are running a deficit. No one with knowledge of the education sector imagines those budget overruns describe managerial largesse. The problem is not enough incoming cash to cover the cost of running a school.

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The Guardian view on the murder of Brazilian politicians: Marielle Franco’s legacy | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/world/brazilplay episode download
16 March, by Editorial[ —]
The killing of a Rio city councillor has sparked mass protests across the country. But will her warnings be heeded?

Political cynicism is rife in Brazil, for good reason. Years of scandal have left many regarding elected representatives en masse as corrupt, incompetent liars and democracy as broken. Murder is frequent in Rio de Janeiro. Yet tens of thousands have taken to the streets across the country to protest against the killing of Rio politician Marielle Franco and her driver, in what is widely regarded as an assassination.

Franco, 38, was shot dead on Wednesday, only 18 months after her election to the city council. She was a black single mother from the favelas in a field dominated by privileged white men. Sceptics wondered if she could get elected, yet her tally of votes was the fifth highest of more than 50 councillors. In her short tenure she had become a beacon for progressive politics locally, on issues including LGBT and women’s rights and an outspoken critic of the aggressive, militarised policing of the favelas, where residents live under the brutal control of drug gangs, but are also terrorised by state violence.

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The Guardian view on air pollution: moral pusillanimity, political ineptitude | Editorial

15 March, by Editorial[ —]
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has willed the ends to tackle air pollution but he’s unable to will the means

Britain needs to do more to clean up its dirty air as it is a “major public health scandal”. So says the environment secretary Michael Gove. He’s right. The UK has been unlawfully breaching nitrogen dioxide limits since 2010. The government has been taken to court and lost three times. Finally a minister is committing to a clean air strategy that restricts diesel use “to ensure our air is properly breathable”. These words won’t be easy to walk back from. Neither should they be. Pollution cuts short an estimated 40,000 lives each year, and affects neurodevelopment and foetal growth.

Related: UK car industry must pay up for toxic air 'catastrophe', super-inquiry finds

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The Guardian view on sleep deprivation: who can afford forty winks? | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/world/raceplay episode download
15 March, by Editorial[ —]
Smartphones are only part of the picture; sleep problems are both cause and consequence of social disadvantage

Obesity used to be regarded as a disease of affluent societies. In a sense, of course, this is true: you cannot be obese if you cannot afford enough calories. But we now understand that the story is more complex, and that children from low-income groups are more likely to be obese than those from the highest-income groups.

Our understanding of sleep deprivation has yet to see a similar evolution. Almost half the British population say they get six hours’ sleep a night or less, compared with around a twelfth in 1942. Experts blame developments such as electrification and the proliferation of entertainment; one neuroscientist went so far as to warn of a “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic” recently. We need sleep for mental and physical recovery; for cognitive control, memory and learning. Sleep loss is associated with everything from obesity and Alzheimer’s disease to diabetes and poor mental health.

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The Guardian view on Theresa May and Russia: tackling the troll state | Editorial

14 March, by Editorial[ —]
The prime minister makes a compelling case for Kremlin culpability in the Salisbury incident and is right that such a reckless, hostile act by another state requires a robust response

There was no ideal response available to Theresa May, having decided that the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. One possible motive for the attack was to provoke a diplomatic row with the UK. The Kremlin has a long-standing policy of testing western governments’ readiness to tolerate projections of Russian power overseas. An international spat can also whip up patriotic fervour in President Vladimir Putin’s domestic audience, since he is seeking re-election this weekend. By pushing back hard, the prime minister risks giving Mr Putin the reaction he wants. But treating the incident as anything less than an outrageous aggression looks weak. It signals that the use of a chemical weapon on British streets could somehow be excusable.

Mrs May was right to set out a measured retaliatory response. Some of these were economic, targeting financial assets that might abet Russian espionage. Others focused on that capability more directly, including the expulsion of 23 diplomats, identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”. Mr Putin is unlikely to change his foreign policy as a result of unilateral British action. And, while Nato allies and the EU have offered words of solidarity, there is much uncertainty around the potential for coordinated containment of the Kremlin. The lack of such cohesion – especially when Brexit makes Britain look strategically dislocated – may have emboldened Russia.

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The Guardian view on denying cancer care: unjust and uncaring | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/immigrationplay episode download
14 March, by Editorial[ —]

There is outrage over the refusal of radiotherapy to a patient who has lived here more than four decades. His case points to wider problems

Refusing Albert Thompson NHS treatment for prostate cancer unless he hands over £54,000 he does not have offends both justice and basic humanity. Since last autumn, staff have been ordered to check proof of residency before supplying “non-urgent” healthcare, and charge upfront if it is not forthcoming. This came despite warnings from groups such as Docs Not Cops that health workers struggle to understand who is eligible, leading to discrimination, and that the rules deter ill people from seeking life-saving treatment and make it more likely that infectious diseases could spread.

Worrying as the policy is, it should not have affected Mr Thompson, whose case was revealed by the Guardian last week and raised at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. Cancer specialists are among those who find it extremely odd that a patient can be booked for radiotherapy yet told on arrival that the treatment is not urgent. Moreover, the 63-year-old moved to the UK as a teenager, has lived here for 44 years and has paid taxes for almost all of those. But he is one of a significant number of long-term UK residents from the Commonwealth to suffer in the “hostile environment” for migrants introduced by Theresa May as home secretary. Many arrived as children, had settled into a peaceful retirement after decades of living and working here, and have been shocked to be told they are not, as they believed, British. Some have found themselves on the brink of deportation.

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The Guardian view on Stephen Hawking: the mind of God | Editorial

14 March, by Editorial[ —]
The death of a brilliant and complex scientist will mean we are all poorer because his mind will no longer roam the multiverses

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant, complex man and scientist. Diagnosed at 21 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he had been expected to live a few more years. Hawking lasted another 55. He made his name as a young Cambridge cosmologist with breakthroughs as awesome as anything religion offers: proving that big bang theory must hold true and elucidating the link between gravity and quantum mechanics. From his wheelchair, Hawking’s mind roamed the multiverses. It was his 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time, about advances in cosmology, that made him a pop icon. It kindled Hawking’s showmanship: when asked what his book was about, he replied “the mind of God”. Despite his brilliance, Hawking never won a Nobel prize, as they are not awarded for theory unsupported by observation. Humankind’s new-found ability to generate mini-black holes may mean he will be proved right. Hawking stood out in an age remarkable for secular triumphs. He was proof that more than beliefs were required to win arguments – defending feminism, the EU and the NHS and warning against demagogues in a familiar American-accented voice. Hawking was a way for the cosmos to know itself. His death will mean we know a little less about ourselves.

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The Guardian view on Trump and Tillerson: he’s fired. What next? | Editorial

13 March, by Editorial[ —]
The dismissal of the US secretary of state was long predicted. But its timing is suspicious and his replacement, Mike Pompeo, is a deeply disturbing choice

Calling your boss a moron is never a great career move, even when you are merely echoing what many others think. Talk of ousting Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replacing him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo began when his reported insult was revealed last autumn. Donald Trump attacked such reports as “FAKE NEWS!” But they came from administration sources; and now that they have come to pass it bodes badly – or more accurately, even worse – for US foreign policy.

Mr Tillerson’s extraordinary sacking on Tuesday reflected the administration’s broader dishonesty, chaos and conflict. It was swiftly followed by the removal of the president’s personal assistant, reportedly under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes. Only days ago Gary Cohn, Mr Trump’s top economic adviser, and communications director Hope Hicks said they were off. These are the latest in a record number of resignations and sackings.

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The Guardian view on the spring statement: more bad news | Editorial

13 March, by Editorial[ —]
Philip Hammond continues to take advantage of the fallout of the financial crisis to shrivel the British state. The problem is that his policies are shrinking the economy faster

This country is supposed to leave the European Union in 2019. Just when Britain needs to muster all its resources, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicts the economy will grow at only 1.3% – half the rate it did a decade ago. Clearly, something has gone badly wrong. Yet instead of identifying the problem and fixing it, Conservative chancellors have made a bad situation worse by running perverse austerity programmes. Philip Hammond had a chance to change tack today and adopt a new economic model based on an activist fiscal policy which would boost public spending and produce the jobs people want and need. This would have been a message of hope and security in bewildering times.

But Mr Hammond was unmoved. Instead he labelled detractors of his austerity plans “Eeyores”, claiming he was more Tiggerish about the UK’s outlook. Pooh-like is a polite way of describing such unwarranted optimism. The chancellor’s plans for a sustainable recovery rest upon a combination of marketisation, public spending restraint – alleviated by some extra cash – and tax cuts. These are just the same failed austerity policies repackaged for a wearier age. The chancellor continues to take advantage of the fallout of the financial crisis to shrivel the state. His problem is that his policies are shrinking the economy faster.

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