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The Guardian view on big data: the danger is less democracy | Editorial

26 February, by Editorial[ —]

The information gathered about us by the internet giants makes our political system vulnerable to new forms of manipulation

The Observer’s discovery that a secretive firm apparently bankrolled by a rightwing billionaire was at work in the Brexit referendum to sway voters selected on the basis of their Facebook profiles highlights the way in which the erosion of privacy can lead to an erosion of democracy – and will inevitably do so without firm, clear, principled action by governments and courts.

The same firm, Cambridge Analytica, has also been credited with helping the Trump campaign in a similar way, although this is disputed by some observers. Even if we can’t know how effective such campaigns have been, they will spread so long as any political organisation suspects that its opponents might gain an advantage from them.

Related: Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

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The Guardian view on South Korea: scandals and successes | Editorial

26 February, by Editorial[ —]
The controversy that has left Park Geun-hye’s presidency hanging in the balance tells us as much about this overlooked country as it does about her

North Korea’s bombastic rhetoric, nuclear programme and now the killing of the leader’s half-brother ensure – as intended – that this impoverished and insular country grabs extraordinary international attention. More surprising is that South Korea inspires so little interest in the west. It is, perhaps, too prosperous and stable to intrigue. But its rise has been spectacular. When Korea was divided in 1953, the south’s prospects looked gloomy. Life expectancy stood at around 50 years. Now it is a major global economy. By 2030 its women are expected to live past 90, leading the world. And a “Korean wave” of popular culture – K-pop, cosmetic brands and dramas – has swept through Asia and onwards.

Seoul’s latest soap opera is its most riveting and its most absurd. But this one is factual and threatens to make President Park Geun-hye the country’s first democratically elected leader to be forced from office early. It involves a “female Rasputin”, multimillion-dollar bribery allegations that have led to the arrest of Samsung’s acting head, and an actual, not merely metaphorical, gift horse. On Monday, the court deciding whether to uphold Ms Park’s impeachment will hear closing arguments. Her powers are already suspended and she has vowed to resign if it rules against her; critics say she has been stalling to see out the last year of the single term that presidents are allowed.

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The Observer view on Steve Hewlett

https://www.theguardian.com/media/radio4play episode download
26 February, by Observer editorial[ —]
The master storyteller who touched us all with his life’s final chapter

Steve Hewlett, who died last Monday from oesophageal cancer, was a remarkable journalist, a former Panorama editor and a courageous broadcaster, who used his last months of fatal illness to extraordinarily moving effect. Not only did Hewlett write a must-read cancer diary here in the Observer, he conducted an unforgettable series of intimate conversations with presenter Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4.

“Two men talking about cancer” became essential listening, while Hewlett tackled his diagnosis and subsequent treatment with a journalist’s thoroughness. He demonstrated how to fight illness, never flinched from researching his condition on Google, widening the circle of his inquiry to talk to friends who had been through cancer, investigate the best treatment and challenge his doctors. Millions responded to these dialogues.

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The Observer view on Labour and Jeremy Corbyn | Observer editorial

25 February, by Observer editorial[ —]
Labour is not a functioning opposition, leaving Mrs May free to act as she pleases

Related: Corbyn told: take blame for Copeland byelection flop or we face disaster

There can be no disguising the calamity that last week’s byelection results suggested for the Labour party, no extenuating circumstance that can excuse the performance of an institution that was once a great power. They were a dismal verdict on the state of her majesty’s opposition. Labour’s continuing decline should concern not just Labour supporters but anyone who cares about effective government and the checks and balances provided by decent scrutiny from a functioning opposition. It is difficult to remember a time when the official opposition was so weak in organisation, bereft of ideas, inept at basic politics and at the same time so supremely arrogant in the presumption of its own righteousness. And no amount of puerile blame-shifting by Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes – it was the fault of Peter Mandelson, fake news, the “establishment” etc – can hide the dire reality of their predicament.

Related: Labour faces catastrophic loss of working-class support

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The Guardian view on the byelection results: a test for Mr Corbyn | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/liberaldemocratsplay episode download
24 February, by Editorial[ —]
Labour is ceding territory on the centre ground of politics to the Tories, not because of Brexit but because of the Labour leader’s unwarranted optimism. The reality is that voters are not buying what he is selling

What happens when you know all about an impending catastrophe but somehow cannot take it seriously? Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is in danger of finding out. It cannot be much cheer that the opposition won just one out of two seats it has held for more than half a century. Last night’s capture of Copeland for the Conservatives is a big political event by any measure. Copeland – and its predecessor seat – had been Labour since 1935. It was the first time a sitting government had won a byelection since 1982. It is an exceptional result for Theresa May and a humbling one for Mr Corbyn. Some of that is down to local factors, in particular the Labour leader’s dislike of the nuclear power industry on which west Cumbria is so economically dependent. It is worth recalling that even when Labour ran on a more visceral anti-nuclear manifesto in 1983, voters in Copeland backed the party. The region is one of many in which traditional Labour voters still balk at switching to the Tories, but when so many jobs are at stake it can happen. Copeland is also a whiter, wealthier constituency than average – and also importantly one with a larger manufacturing base than that usually found. It is the sort of seat that Labour needs to keep hold of in the north. The Tory win underlines Mrs May’s and the Tories’ growing ascendancy. It also hints at the larger potential of Mrs May’s conservatism to capture the centre ground of English politics – though she will have to persuade her party too.

Parliamentary byelections always tell an important story, but care is needed in putting those stories into a national context. Labour held on in Stoke Central, a contest in which many initially wrote them off. The Liberal Democrats’ recent surge was not repeated either. In some ways the biggest loser this week was Ukip. When the two byelections were triggered, many assumed that the two seats, Stoke in particular, might be Ukip’s for the taking. Perhaps they might have been if the view that Brexit has revolutionised everything had been right. But it wasn’t. Ukip’s arrogance, divisions and obsessions were not what the voters turned out to want. Paul Nuttall, the party leader, staked his future on winning in Stoke. His flaws were ruthlessly exposed, in the press and on the stump. His future must therefore be in doubt. Another round of the Ukip leadership soap opera may beckon. Ukip is not dead. But claims that it is poised to sweep Labour aside have underestimated the good sense of the voters. Yet the byelection results support a second important conclusion as well. They seriously undermine the lazy assumption, peddled especially by some of the rightwing press but swallowed also by some in the Labour party, that the Brexit referendum has redefined British party politics at a stroke. Both of these constituencies were very clear Brexit supporters in 2016. Yet their votes for Brexit did not give the byelections a new shape. Instead their shape is recognisably an old one. In Stoke, the shifts in party share of the vote between 2015 and 2017 were small. Even in Copeland, they were modest. These byelections look more like traditional contests between England’s four main parties (five if you count the Greens) than local reruns of the Brexit argument. They were arguably at least as much about May v Corbyn as about Britain and the EU.

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The Guardian view on alien life: dark star, bright prospects | Editorial

24 February, by Editorial[ —]
The discovery of planets where other lifeforms might flourish makes the universe look more interesting – even if we never reach them

Looked at in the right perspective, 39 light years is a trivial distance. In the imagination of science fiction writers it is only a hop and a skip away; even without faster-than-light travel, it is a distance that could conceivably be covered by a robot probe or even a colony ship. So the discovery that there are seven Earth-sized planets hurtling around a red dwarf star named Trappist-1 only 39 light years away, and that three of them may well have water oceans capable of nourishing life similar to that of primitive Earth, is deeply satisfying, as well as exciting.

What took them so long? There are already nearly 4,000 planetary candidates known from earlier surveys of the neighbouring stars. The number of stars in our galaxy alone is ungraspably huge: just the margin of error in one estimate is a figure with 11 zeros after it. If even one in a million had planets around it, that would still leave anything between 20m and 40m planetary systems in our galaxy alone. If none at all holds life, that would be completely astonishing. But if some have developed life, we are left with the question named after the Nobel-winning physicist, Enrico Fermi: where are they? Where are the aliens?

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The Guardian view on byelections: as much about Labour as Brexit | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/stoke-centralplay episode download
24 February, by Editorial[ —]
A humbling loss to the Tories in Copeland and an unimpressive performance in Stoke underline the woes of Jeremy Corbyn’s party, even if Ukip were in some ways the biggest losers

Parliamentary byelections always tell an important story, but care is always needed in putting those stories into a national context. Yesterday’s two byelections in formerly deep-dyed traditional Labour seats fit that mould. The big headline is Trudy Harrison’s capture of Copeland for the Conservatives. The Tories and their press supporters will understandably be cock-a-hoop. Labour dismay at the loss will trigger more recriminations. Yet Labour held on in Stoke Central, a contest in which many initially wrote them off, and even increased their margin of victory compared with 2015. The threatened Ukip landslide, widely taken for granted beforehand, never happened. The Liberal Democrats’ recent surge was not repeated either.

The Conservative victory in Copeland is without question an exceptional result for Theresa May and a humbling for Jeremy Corbyn. Some of that is down to local factors, in particular the Labour leader’s dislike of the nuclear power industry on which west Cumbria is so economically dependent. The region is one of many in which traditional Labour voters still baulk at switching to the Tories, but when so many jobs are at stake it can happen. No governing party has won a byelection from the main opposition party since 1982 and yesterday was only the fourth time this has happened since 1945. The Tory capture of Copeland thus sends a big message. It underlines Mrs May’s and the Tories’ current and growing ascendancy in English politics. But it also hints at the larger potential of Mrs May’s form of conservatism to capture the centre ground of English politics – though she will have to persuade her party too .

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The Guardian view on famine: sitting by as disaster unfolds | Editorial

23 February, by Editorial[ —]
Millions face starvation, but the world is turning away. We are too late to prevent this severe food crisis – but we can and must act now to save lives

How can a disaster be unprecedented and yet also entirely predictable and preventable? And how can it be that, when such a catastrophe can be halted, we still fail to do so? That is the situation now unfolding across four countries, where 20 million people may starve to death within six months. The first famine recorded worldwide in six years has already been declared in part of South Sudan. Yemen, northern Nigeria and Somalia are also on the brink, according to the Famine Early Warning System, which says global hunger levels are at their highest for decades.

In the past, famine was often misunderstood as an inadequate food supply. Now we have grasped that – notwithstanding the alarming implications of a soaring global population, climate change and the effects of current farming practices – the key question is who can access food. People die because of disintegrating governments as well as poor rains. In each of the current cases, the problem has complex roots, but the striking common thread is conflict: the impact of jihadist group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, the civil war in South Sudan and a war – fuelled in part by British and US bombs – that has destroyed and paralysed Yemen’s ports, to devastating effect in a country which imported 90% of its food. In Somalia, the primary immediate cause is drought, but decades of conflict have left it vulnerable.

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The Guardian view on the Met police: changing, but too slowly | Editorial

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/police-federationplay episode download
23 February, by Editorial[ —]
The new commissioner faces a daunting reform challenge, but begins with stores of political capital

Many of the challenges confronting a 21st-century police officer were unimagined when Cressida Dick, newly appointed commissioner to London’s Metropolitan police service, started out as a beat constable in 1983. The existence of a globally connected digital realm accessible by mobile device – never mind that network’s subversion for wrongdoing – was the stuff of science fiction. Cybercrime wasn’t even a word.

Some things change less. Thirty-four years ago the capital needed protecting from terrorists, but they were Irish republican extremists not Salafi jihadists. Thirty-four years ago London’s police force had a diversity problem. It did not reflect the ethnic composition of the communities under its jurisdiction and struggled to recruit minorities. The way stop-and-search tactics were used highlighted the fact that too many policemen saw all black men as criminals. Anger had boiled over into the Brixton riots in 1981; a similar frustration was involved in the 2011 riots – triggered initially by a police shooting of a young black man.

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The Guardian view on terror suspects: protecting their rights is in our interests | Editorial

22 February, by Editorial[ —]
Jamal al-Harith, previously held at Guantánamo Bay, has blown himself up for Islamic State. But his case cannot justify the expansion of such detention and use of torture

Amid the storm over Jamal al-Harith, who was paid £1m compensation by the government following his incarceration in Guantánamo Bay and has now been identified as an Islamic State suicide bomber, we should remind ourselves why he received the settlement. Like hundreds of men he was held in extrajudicial detention for years and subjected to torture on a regular basis, with the complicity of the UK. He was taken to Camp X-Ray because the US thought he might have useful information on the treatment of prisoners by the Taliban – who had held him as a suspected British spy – not because he was considered dangerous. Authorities concluded he had no links to the Taliban or al-Qaida, though they thought some questions remained. Very few of the detainees have ever faced any charges even in the unsatisfactory forum of Guantánamo’s military tribunals, substandard courts lacking basic due-process protections. Most have been released and returned to society.

We have no way of knowing whether the trauma of his treatment accounted for Harith’s recruitment by Isis, or whether he was set on this path anyway. That is, in any case, secondary. What critics of the payment are actually saying is that anyone suspected of possible involvement in or interest in committing an offence has no right to the presumption of innocence. Regardless of how unsatisfactory the evidence against them is, the suspicion is enough to deny them the basic protections of international law and human dignity, and even the most serious and shocking infringements of those rights should receive no redress.

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